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 team of local citizen reporters in the process of bringing high-quality, accurate, relevant reports of life in East Lansing for the people who live, work, do business, recreate and go to school here.
Today we bring you a report of our activities for the calendar year 2022. Here are some highlights:
- A loss of key staff in spring 2022 led to a four-month publishing hiatus. This was the first interruption of our service since September 2014. During the hiatus, a Task Force was created and produced a report including guidelines for moving forward. We resumed operations in September 2022.
- After the regrouping, ELi hired Julie Seraphinoff as our new managing editor. She comes to us with substantial relevant professional experience in journalism, much more than any previous managing editor for ELi.
- ELi also hired Lucas Day as our new city desk editor. Luke also came to us with substantial relevant professional experience in journalism, more than any previous city desk editor.
- We also brought on board special-assignment reporter Dustin DuFort Petty.
- Al Hargrave Jackson, who had been a reporter for us, shifted her role as she began law school and became ELi’s Donor Relations Manager.
- We have continued to have Sarah Spohn bringing our Arts & Cultures reporting and have continued bringing the excellent photojournalism of Dylan Lees and Gary Caldwell.
- We continued fighting the baseless lawsuit brought against ELi and Publisher Alice Dreger by real estate developer Scott Chappelle, recently receiving a favorable hearing in the Court of Appeals. [Update: the Court of Appeals ruled in our favor, dismissing the lawsuit as being without any merit, supporting the lower court’s finding.]
- Our Annual Campaign brought in over $140,000 in donations and commitments to support our reporting in 2023.
Our work would have been absolutely impossible without the backstage support of General Manager Jodi Spicer and Tech Managers Lisa Lees and Morgan Lees. Jodi, Lisa and Morgan are essential to our operations, even though they are generally invisible to our readers.
In 2022, ELi brought 267 original reports from 16 local reporters and 3 photojournalists.
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.
We covered East Lansing city government including City Council, Planning Commission, the Downtown Development Authority, and the new Independent Police Oversight Commission; the East Lansing Public Schools Board of Trustees’ meetings and actions; the hiring of another city attorney; diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in the city government and schools; the politics and offerings of Albert EL Fresco; attempts to create affordable housing; city finances, including the pensions; lawsuits in which the city has been embroiled; East Lansing Police use of force; the shooting of a Black man by two ELPD officers at Meijer and the AG’s decision on charges; flooding and the sewer system; the MSUFCU project; violence downtown and in the schools; real estate developer Scott Chappelle’s criminal trial; the renaming of Azaadiwag Park; the school board election; the Sanctuary City declaration; the changing faces at City Council; and a lot more.
ELi continued to do investigative work, using the Freedom of Information Act and triangulation of sources to bring you special reports on our government. This included special reporting by:
- Alice Dreger on: the city’s use of device giveaways and private contractors to deny public record requests; exceptions to the new nepotism law; city finances; the use of public funds to support an elected official’s business activities; the Evergreen properties bond; the city manager’s performance review; Trader Joe’s (non) appearance; DDA TIF #2.
- Lucas Day on: violence downtown; external review of ELPD’s policies and procedures; flooding and cell towers.
- Dustin DuFort Petty on: religious institutions and political signs; local responses to rising antisemitism; trash piling up in the schools; safety systems in ELPS.
- Emily Joan Elliott on: vaccine mandates; the deer cull; the struggle at ELPS to balance emotional wellbeing and physical health during COVID surges; the shrinking of the city’s workforce with notable attrition of Black employees and a rise in pay for top women employees.
- Andrew Graham on: flooding around town; MSU’s new sophomores-live-on policy.
- Al Hargrave Jackson on: ARPA funds use; what the city’s lobbyists were up to; school board policies.
Our reporters in 2022 included Nathan Andrus, Heather Brothers, Frankie Calabrese-Barton, Betsy Calvert, Lucas Day, Emily Joan Elliott, Andrew Graham, Marie Adele Grosso, Al Hargrave Jackson, Clay Oppenhuizen, Dustin DuFort Petty, Adan Tomas Quan, Chris Root, Julie Seraphinoff, Sarah Spohn and Karessa Wheeler. Photojournalists included Gary Caldwell, Andrew Graham and Dylan Lees.
Our “Ask ELi to Investigate” service covered reader questions about vaccine mandates, the state of marijuana sales in East Lansing, the cost and status of the deer cull, COVID at the high school and daycares, park and sewer infrastructure, road construction, parking tickets, crime in East Lansing, and more.
ELi is overseen by a voluntary Board of Directors.
In 2022, because of the shut-down, the work of the Board of Directors was far more time-consuming and stressful than usual. We thank Raymond Vlasin, Chuck Grigsby, Cody Harrell, Adan Tomas Quan, Amalia Medina, Sam Hosey and Jiquanda Johnson for their valiant board service in 2022.
A look at ELi’s finances.
As noted above, this year was an unusual year because of the publishing shut-down that occurred throughout the summer. In order to conserve resources, we slashed all spending during this period and then brought operations back relatively slowly. This kept expenses substantially lower than in years past in terms of the total calendar year.
Expenses in 2022 came to a total of $84,796.
About 79% of the expenses covered paying local people to do work for ELi. Here’s how the expenses broke down:
“Outreach” includes advertising and promotion, the ELi paper edition, community meet-and-greet events and postage and delivery for communicating with donors. “Legal and accounting services” includes general services in those areas. (It does not include the costs associated with the lawsuit brought by real estate developer Scott Chappelle; read about the coverage of those costs here.)
“Office expenses/internet” includes server space costs as well as office supplies. “Reporting expenses” includes mileage and parking reimbursement when reporters had to go out of town, and charges put to us for Freedom of Information Acts requests and requests for printed records from the Ingham County Register of Deeds. It also includes subscriptions to the Lansing State Journal and MLive, subscriptions we use to access information for our own reporting.
“Donation charges” includes credit card fees charged to us when donors give via GiveGab, PayPal, and the like. “Professional dues and business license” includes our annual memberships to the Institute for Nonprofit News and LION Publishers, plus our business registration with the State of Michigan. (We had refunds of about $10 that makes up the rest of the total.)
Here’s how the expenses look when broken down by percentage:
Our total income in 2022 came to $161,843.65.
That included donations totaling $141,152.27, grants totaling $20,687.18 (chiefly NewsMatch), and interest income of $4.20. Most of the donations came from people who either live here or used to live here and still care about East Lansing. The donation sum includes Crunchy’s sponsorship of our weekly newsletter.
All told, 87% of our financial support in 2022 came from individual supporters like you.
In 2022, we obtained $19,487.18 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 had been going 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. In 2022, our award went up to about $19,500. We expect it to come to $19,000 in 2023.
We have always hit the maximum for which we are eligible with NewsMatch, but the fact is that, year by year, the importance of local support has grown steadily in terms of relative amounts.
In 2021, we had to draw about $2,900 from savings to make ends meet. In 2022, that wasn’t the case, in large part because we had banked funds that were not used during the summer publishing hiatus.
Those banked savings allowed us to restart operations in September, and they allowed us to be able to hire Managing Editor Julie Seraphinoff and City Desk Editor Luke Day, knowing we had funds in the bank to provide them jobs for at least a year. Our savings made our survival possible.
The ELi team loves East Lansing, and this community loves us back.
For our 2022 Annual Campaign, which raised funds for our work in 2023, donors committed more than $42,000 in matching funds to draw smaller and newer donors. The size of that match-donor base means we are obtaining a $3,000 bonus from the Knight Foundation as part of NewsMatch.
The big match core is a really big deal for us because it expands our donor base. That said, this year we had fewer new donors than the year before. While the campaign in 2021 drew over 100 new donors, in 2022 our campaign drew only 56 new donors. That is concerning to us.
The annual campaign brought in over $140,000 in donations and commitments (including $19,000 from NewsMatch and the $3,000 Knight Foundation bonus), or about 80% of our expected budget for 2023. It drew a total of 588 unique contributions from individual donors.
As of this writing, we have about $93,000 in the bank, but this is before January payroll has been processed. The sum also does not reflect the NewsMatch and Knight Foundation funds (totaling $22,000) that will come to us in March as a result of the 2022 Annual Campaign.
We expect to make it safely through the year economically on a combination of savings plus additional donations, including donations that will come in through automated monthly contributions.
If you want to sign up to help ELi with either a one-time donation or a steady monthly commitment, please go to our donations page to take care of that today.