East Lansing Info’s Annual Report for 2021

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East Lansing Info (ELi) provides nonpartisan, nonprofit, meaningful local news and information about East Lansing, Michigan. We take donations from the community and engage a local team of citizen reporters in the process of bringing high-quality, accurate, relevant reports of life in East Lansing for people who live, work, recreate, and go to school here.

Today, we bring you a report of our activities for the calendar year 2021. Here are some highlights:

  • Continuing as a lean and efficient operation, we provided consistent local news reporting for East Lansing on a budget of just over $203,000.
  • About 85% of our expenditures went specifically to pay local people to bring you the news. If we add in what we paid for local professional services, that rises to 87.5%. In all, in 2021, we put about $178,000 from local donations right back into local jobs.
  • In her first full year as our Managing Editor and Development Director, Emily Joan Elliott worked with General Manager/CFO Jodi Spicer to direct a record-breaking Sustainability Campaign, bringing in over $160,000 for our 2022 operations – about $30,000 more in local donations than the year before.
  •  We expanded our outreach by creating a paper edition of ELi, which more than paid for itself in terms of drawing new donors to support our work. The paper edition also greatly expanded our reach to seniors and college students in East Lansing.
  • MSU Archives acknowledged the importance of ELi to this community by archiving our paper editions and our website as part of the MSU archival collections.
  • We partnered with MSU student radio, Impact 89FM, to expand the reach of our weekly podcast, East Lansing Insider, by broadcasting as part of their Sunday morning local-news round-up.
  • ELHS educator Cody Harrell directed ELi’s Summer Youth Journalism Program for the fifth year in a row, using a modified approach to manage the ongoing disruptions of the pandemic, focusing with a set of ELHS students on investigative work.
  • We teamed up with the League of Women Voters and ASMSU to bring two sets of live-and-online candidate forums for the City Council race of November 2021.

In 2021, ELi brought 581 original reports from nineteen local reporters and two contracted photojournalists.

In 2021, as in years past, the ELi reporting team made it possible for the people of East Lansing to know what is really going on here.

City Council from left: George Brookover, Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg, Mayor Ron Bacon, Dana Watson, and Lisa Babcock (photos by Dylan Lees for ELi)

We covered East Lansing City government including Council, Planning Commission, and a lot more; the East Lansing Public Schools’ Board of Trustees’ meetings and actions; the renaming of Pinecrest Elementary School to the Robert L. Green Elementary School; the return to in-person learning at ELPS and associated mental and physical health challenges among students; ongoing challenges at the East Lansing Public Library in terms of money, infrastructure, and operations; extraordinary flooding and problems with the City’s sewer systems; the resignation of Mayor Aaron Stephens and the 2022 City Council election, which saw the seating of Ron Bacon, George Brookover, and Dana Watson, with Bacon then elected East Lansing’s first Black mayor; the Council’s decision to change City Attorneys; the special Study Committee on an Independent Police Oversight Commission and the creation of that new Oversight Commission; the City’s ongoing pension debt challenges and its planned use of ARPA funds; development downtown and around town including in terms of tax increment financing and the marijuana industry; the effect of the pandemic on many aspects of local life including labor-management tensions in the City, the library, and Sparrow Hospital; and a whole lot more.

Dylan Lees for ELi

Robert L. Green sits with Martin Luther King III at the dedication of East Lansing’s former Pinecrest Elementary School in 2021.

We continued to do investigative work, using the Freedom of Information Act and triangulation of sources to bring you special reports on our public schools and government. This included special reporting by:

Our reporters in 2021 included Nathan Andrus, Patty Bonito, Heather Brothers, Claire Chapin, Alice Dreger, Emily Joan Elliott, Andrew Graham, Al Hargrave, Jack Timothy Harrison, Amalia Medina, Brooklyn Peppo, Adan Tomas Quan, Chris Root, Carrie Sampson, Nick Sly, Sarah Spohn, Chris Wardell, Karessa Wheeler, and Dani Wilcutt, plus photojournalists Gary Caldwell and Dylan Lees. 

Dylan Lees for ELi

Some of the residents on Timberlane whose basements were flooded with sewage on Aug. 12. The adults pictured, from left to right: Maureen “Mo” Newton, Alex Ellis and Brent Wood. In the pink shirt is the daughter of the Quintuses, who also had a flooded basement.

We answered almost four times as many “Ask ELi to Investigate” requests as the year before!

 Our reporters answered questions about whether East Lansing’s library could join CADL, Covid-19 vaccinations, problems with Verizon cell coverage and the Comcast outage caused by the train accident, the lawsuit against ELi by developer Scott Chappelle, the land acknowledgment on City Council agendas, curbside recycling and special recycling, dog attacks, loud warplanes overhead, and – most popularly – about the Quality Dairy French onion dip. Plus so many reader questions about street lights, walk signs, trails, redevelopment, wildlife, bike racks, fireworks, water bills and tax assessments, and emergency responses.

We ran the whole operation on $203,247.

How did we do that? We had the help of volunteers, and those of us who are paid to work for ELi are paid a lot less than our work is worth. We do this because we believe in the critical importance of factual news to local communities.

As noted above, about 87% of our expenses this year went straight back into the economy in terms of paying local people to work for ELi, either as our staff or as contractors working for us in payroll services, legal assistance, and design work. Here, you can see a breakdown of our expenses for 2021:

The remainder of our expenses went to pay for things like server space, credit card processing fees (when you donate through PayPal, for example), Freedom of Information Act charges, outreach including via direct mail and our paper editions, and professional memberships for ELi in the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN) and LION Publishers.

Our total income in 2021 came to $200,347.

That included $185,291 in donations from individuals who support ELi, most of whom either live here or used to live here and still care about East Lansing. That sum also includes sponsorship from Crunchy’s for our biweekly newsletter. (Sign up here for our free email news.)

All told, 93% of our financial support in 2021 came from individual supporters like you. When we do the math, we find that nearly every dollar donated by an individual in or near East Lansing stayed in our local economy.

In 2021, we also obtained $15,000 from NewsMatch, the national philanthropic campaign for nonprofit news organizations that belong to INN. That was the maximum for which we were eligible. NewsMatch funding has gone down as more organizations have joined INN. In 2019, we obtained $30,000 from NewsMatch; in 2020, $22,000; and in 2021, just $15,000. We have always hit the max for which we are eligible, but the fact is that, year by year, the importance of local support has risen steadily.

In 2020, we benefited from emergency Covid-related funding, including a forgiven SBA PPP loan of $14,200 and emergency national journalism funding of $10,000. In 2021, we didn’t have those sources available to us, again highlighting the importance of the expansion of local support, enabled in part by our expansion to paper and radio.

Remarkably, donations to ELi from individuals went up 64% from 2020 to 2021. Individual support went up from 71% of our total revenue in 2020 to 93% of our total revenue in 2021.

When we look at our revenue and expenses for the year, our net financial position in 2021 went down $2,900.11, funds we drew from savings. 

Dylan Lees for ELi

ELi sends reporters like Heather Brothers and Andrew Graham to City Council and other government meetings so you can stay informed.

The ELi team loves East Lansing, and this community loves us back.

For our 2022 Sustainability Campaign, we had far more local “core” donors supporting us with match funds than ever before, providing over $50,000 in support to be matched by smaller and newer donors. That was a really big deal for us, and we are hoping this year to grow it even more when we hit our campaign start in October. 

Having so much in local core matching support made us eligible for a special one-time grant from the Knight Foundation via INN, a grant that will bring us $3,000 extra in 2022. During our Sustainability Campaign, we brought in 707 unique donations including from 120 new donors.

As of this writing, we have about $77,000 in the bank. This figure looks substantially lower than our Sustainability Campaign total of about $160,000 because the campaign total figure includes annualized commitments from people signed up to donate automatically to ELi each month. Additionally, the money from NewsMatch and the Knight Foundation will not reach our accounts until about March. If you’re moved by all of this to support us, please do so today! Hop on to our donation page and pick one or more of the ways we offer to support our work!

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