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The surfer and former dairy farmer behind NJ.com’s new crime podcast

You could say she’s a bit country, he’s a bit rock ‘n’ roll.

Rebecca Everett is a former cowgirl who grew up on a dairy farm. Kevin Shea is a surfer who is passionate about punk rock music.

They both started their journalism careers at newspapers and eventually adapted to the major changes in our industry to become digital reporters. The two award-winning journalists also have distinction as narrative crime podcasters for NJ.com and The Star-Ledger.

Everett and Shea are co-hosts of the new podcast “In the Shadow of Princeton,” an eight-part series about the 1989 cold case murder of the matriarch of a prominent Princeton family who was brutally stabbed in her locked basement.

The first three episodes of the whodunnit are now out, the remaining episodes appear weekly on Wednesdays, exclusively on Wondery+. Find the podcast on Wondery.com, Apple Podcasts and Spotify. (For more intrigue, visit theprincetonmurder.com)

This is Shea’s first gig as a reporter and co-host of a podcast production on NJ.com. Everett broke into the relatively new form of storytelling with the critically acclaimed 2022 series “Father Wants Us Dead,” which told the heartbreaking story of Westfield’s infamous mass murderer, John List.

“Rebecca and Kevin spent months reporting and reporting, hitting dead ends and then finding ways around them, traveling to Maine and California to track down the elements of the drama – in short, applying moral purpose and the research accuracy that makes our work stand out. a far cry from the vast sea of ​​crime podcasts,” said Chris Kelly, VP of Content at NJ Advance Media, which provides content for NJ.com and The Star-Ledger. “Rebecca is a miracle in this form: tenacious, empathetic and very committed.”

As for Shea, Kelly wrote in the staff email announcing the project: “One of my greatest professional pleasures in recent years has been watching a lifelong, word-based crime and justice reporter podcast like a fish went into the water.”

Shea made this compelling case to Kelly, executive producer, and Everett, our newsroom’s senior podcast producer. He also brought his encyclopedic knowledge of the investigation, having covered elements of the story for 20 years as a Times of Trenton crime reporter.

When Shea, 53, began his professional career at the Asbury Park Press in 1993 as a photojournalist and soon after moved to the Times of Trenton, he said there were barely a handful of personal computers for the entire staff. By the time he joined NJ Advance Media in 2015 after a few year hiatus, he was ready for the seismic shift in the industry.

“I knew our company was going to change and become digital and evolve a little bit,” he told me in an interview with Everett. “I understood that, and I embraced all of that. I always told people, ‘My job is the same: convey the story, write the stories as best you can, honestly… Ultimately, you’re doing the same thing. It just appears in a different format.”

It is this format that earned Everett her first Webby Award for ‘Father Wants Us Dead’, also known as the Oscars of the internet.

“A big part of my learning process was being a fan of NPR stuff my whole life,” she said, referring to Ira Glass’s seminal “This American Life.” “Things like that taught me how to put people in the scene. But the scripting was just the hardest part. Trying to be yourself and figure out how to bring listeners along.

With storytelling podcasts, she says, the idea is for listeners to feel in the moment. “You want them to hear the conversation. When you write an article, you never insert yourself into the conversation.”

Everett and Shea revealed a few surprises they encountered while creating the podcast, which involved nearly 18 months of reporting, writing and editing a script, reading tables, countless hours of recording and sound engineering. And then revise and tweak the episodes even more until they believed it was flawless.

“There have been a few times where our reactions to what we just learned are so timely,” says Everett, who joined NJ Advance Media in 2016 from our sister news site MassLive in her native Massachusetts. “You could never fake it, even if I were frustrated or Kevin was just stunned at what we just found.”

“It never really feels 100% comfortable because we’re so used to printing,” Shea chimed in. “We are not TV or radio reporters.”

Unlike written research articles, which can sometimes take months or years, it is virtually impossible to guide the audience through the reporting period.

“Audio is a great medium to bring that to life,” she says.

Everett’s first brush with journalism came when she was 12, as she was the daughter of dairy farmers in western Massachusetts – on farmland her father’s family had owned since the early 1800s. A reporter from the local newspaper, the Daily Hampshire Gazette, wrote an article about her and her two sisters on the art of displaying the family’s cows at the fair.

“It appeared in the paper shortly after my first week at regional school,” said Everett, 37, who lives in Camden County with her husband of 14 years. “Suddenly everyone knew me as one of the cowgirls.”

Years later, that newspaper hired her for her first reporter job.

“I went to work at the newspaper with the reporter who wrote that article,” said Everett, who studied journalism at Westfield State University in her home state. “That was quite mind-boggling.”

And while the country girl likes to spend her free time in Philly because she is still amazed by the big cities, Shea is drawn to the ocean and his headphones to listen to punk music.

“After this interview I’m going surfing,” he told us.

Shea lives in Point Pleasant Borough with his wife of 27 years. Together they raised three now adult daughters.

For him, journalism is a family profession. His father was a lifelong newspaperman in Washington, DC, working for a variety of newspapers. He remembers his father interviewing Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers) for the National Observer in the early 1970s, before he became famous.

“I actually knew I was going to end up in journalism, at a newspaper,” he said. “I loved it. I thought it was cool.”

After earning a degree in photojournalism from the Rochester Institute of Technology, he wanted to find a place where he could work and then go surfing. He put down his camera early in his career when his curiosity to get to the bottom of things – especially crime – convinced him to become a writer.

And now he is also a podcaster.

“This podcast is very organic, and this is very much an NJ.com project,” he said. “I think it’s important that people know that this is truly homegrown and a very professional operation.”

If you listen to the podcast, please leave a review. But also let the reporters know what you think. Reach Rebecca Everett at [email protected] and Kevin Shea at [email protected]

Enrique Lavin is the editor of online newspapers. Call 732-902-4454 or email [email protected]

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