I’m writing today as ELi’s Executive Director and Publisher to ask you to please bear with us as we try to keep up on bringing you the news. I’m also asking you to please keep helping, as many of you have been, with tips, leads and ideas.
It has been a particularly news-heavy period in East Lansing, which you already know if you’ve been following ELi.
There are historic levels of turmoil in the city’s leadership, many adults and EL high school students expressing anger and disappointment about the library director calling the police on a mistakenly identified Black student, and Glencairn residents roiled up about the potential for small cell towers being built right in front of their homes (and maybe soon yours, too).
Many parents and teachers have concerns about violence at the middle and high schools (something we’ve been tracking for a while, which is why we asked school board candidates about it). And, all over town and social media, people are happy and unhappy about the revised plans for Valley Court Park coming to Planning Commission Wednesday.
That’s just some of what’s going on.
As you may have noticed, many of the stories we’ve been dealing with lately are complex, deep in background and requiring of sensitivity. When that is the case, to stay true to our organizational values, we have to go into a mode where we increase the number of people working on reporting and editing a single article. If you’re watching, you’ll notice there’s two of us on a lot of bylines lately.
With these big stories, we also go through more rounds of editing than normal – not just editing the text, headlines, and photo captions but obtaining new photographs and creating novel graphics that help reader comprehension, filing requests for comments and Freedom of Information Act applications for follow-up work, creating linkable PDFs to show sourcing – to make sure we have it up to the quality our readers expect.
Then we deal with the flood of information coming in through our message portal, via social media, and texts and phone calls. People have been sending tips, requests for coverage, and some pretty sharp criticisms when they feel like we missed something or didn’t work hard enough on a story.
This is also the time of year when Jodi Spicer, our general manager, and I have to do a lot of year-end financial reporting work. We have to get W2s and 1099s out, do the labor-intensive Institute for Nonprofit News (INN) reporting to get the NewsMatch funds we are due, send donors year-end acknowledgements for their tax deductions, work on the 990 return due to the IRS, and on and on.
I’m also currently co-organizing a “shop talk” huddle with the publisher of Eden Prairie Local News for six small local news operations gathering in late February to share best practices and get peer support.
And our tech team of Morgan Lees and Lisa Lees is working on a revision of our website that is urgent. The WordPress theme we’ve been running eastlansinginfo.news on is no longer being supported. We adopted that theme, Largo, in 2020 because it had been developed by INN but INN ceased support for it shortly thereafter. Our tech team has been patching it since then but soon patches will no longer be an option. That also requires my ongoing attention.
We are not a big operation, and none of us is paid much for what we do. With the whole system running on about $175,000 this year – including tech, bookkeeping, donor relations, reporting, editing, photography, social media management, and on and on – no one at ELi is paid what they’re worth. We do this work together as a team out of the belief that this city, like all cities, deserves a dedicated investigative local news team.
The last week was made more challenging by the fact that our managing editor, Julie Seraphinoff, and I both had to go out of town at the same time to attend to our family’s needs. (We are both now at the matriarch age, sandwiched between frail parents and great children who are strong enough to ask us for our help sometimes.)
So, I’m writing today to ask you to please remember that we are not superhuman, and that exhaustion risks ELi’s sustainability.
ELi’s success for the last eight years has created an audience that expects us to be everywhere, solidly reporting all the time. We’ve come to be seen like a utility. When ELi isn’t operating perfectly, some people yell at us like they do Comcast.
As the founder, I’m really glad you’ve come to see ELi as that reliable. As Alice, I’ve reminded the Board of Directors three times in the last couple of weeks ELi really needs someone else to take over for me the job of running the nonprofit corporation as Executive Director soon (ideally by June 1, definitely by Sept. 1). I can’t keep doing so much reporting and running the business, and my best use is in reporting.
I fly home Tuesday midday in the hopes I will see many of you at Fieldhouse on Wednesday evening, and that you’ll understand the bags under my and Julie’s eyes.
Oh, yeah, we didn’t plan to throw a party in the midst of the hardest news stretch ELi has seen in years! But about six weeks ago, Jodi, Donor Relations Manager Al Hargrave Jackson, and I started organizing a “thank you, donors” party for this Wednesday, taking advantage of the kindness of the folks at Fieldhouse to offer us use of their second-floor space.
In the midst of all that’s going on, we are still holding this event to catch up with you in person. It’s really important to us.
Whether you’ve given to ELi in 2022 or plan to give in 2023, we hope you join us for the gathering and silent auction. Apologies that we did not realize this would overlap with the governor’s state of the state address (but, hint hint, that’s being taped!) or that it would overlap with Planning Commission’s consideration of the revision to the Valley Court Park plans (but you can email your comments to the city).
Thank you for understanding this is an unusually demanding time and we are doing our best to keep bringing the news with the depth, intelligence, nonpartisanship and sensitivity you expect from ELi. We’re trying every day to do our best for you.
We know you care about this public service project and we are so grateful for your support, financial and moral. That support makes our work possible.