In their responses to an ELi readership survey and contributions to a new ELi Investigative News Fund, ELi readers are showing strong support for local investigative journalism.
ELi’s Investigative News Fund (INF) was announced on Aug. 22 by ELi’s Executive Director and Publisher Beth Peck. Peck explained then that the INF had been seeded with $500 from a generous anonymous donor. Since that time, the fund has raised a total of $4,820 from 34 donors.
We have now been advised by the donor that we can release his name. The seed donor is former East Lansing mayor Vic Loomis, who told ELi he took this action because he is “desiring to return transparency to city government.”
Loomis was the founding Vice President of ELi’s Board of Directors and is now President of the Board of Directors of the Joe D. Pentecost Foundation, which supports the people of the Greater Lansing Area through alcoholic and drug abuse programming, scholarships for young people in need, improvement of after-school learning opportunities, and Michigan State University programs and projects. Loomis is a U.S. Army veteran, a former commercial banker, and someone who has given thousands of hours of volunteer service to the community, including through service on East Lansing’s Downtown Development Authority, art festival board and as a mentor in 54B’s special Veterans’ Court.
Loomis told ELi he has been frustrated to see how frequently reporters must use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain public documents and how difficult it can be for citizens to know what’s really going on in East Lansing’s city government.
As “the fourth estate,” the press functions as a check on government, protected under the First Amendment and allowing citizens to know what their governments are doing. Historically, public service-oriented news organizations have pressed hard for governmental transparency. ELi is no exception as its team has tracked problems with transparency in East Lansing’s City government and public schools.
The funds raised through the INF will be used to support the costs of ELi’s investigative journalism, including fees associated with FOIA requests and property record searches, reporters, editors, and special assignment photography for investigative news. ELi is able to obtain pro bono pre-publication legal review for our investigative work through its membership in the Institute for Nonprofit News.
A recent survey of 129 ELi readers showed very strong support for our investigative journalism, with 98% of respondents rating it as “very important” to them. The same percentage rated coverage of City Council as “very important” to them.
Respondents were also asked to tell us which three areas of news they would want ELi to cover if ELi could cover only three. The results showed an overwhelming interest in East Lansing City government (92% of readers put it in their top three choices), with the next two most-chosen areas being local elections (74%) and public finances (44%), including taxes, public pensions and public debt.
Asked to describe in their own words what they want out of ELi, here is what a sample of readers responded:
- “For ELi to help ensure that East Lansing remains a transparent and fair community.”
- “The detailed, straight-forward factual reporting you do so well.”
- “Timely and detailed information about the city’s governance.”
- “I want facts about what our local government is doing. We need you to keep an eye on all the things your average citizen can’t.”
- “I want ELi to be the [model of the saying] ‘Sunlight is the best disinfectant.’”
- “Unbiased reporting that holds local government accountable.”
- “Keep doing what you’re doing! You’re the only source to keep us informed about local government – not just covering the meetings but providing us with background and the deep stories about city government, especially City Council, the Library Board and the School Board.”
- “Your investigative reporting at a time of transition and so much lack of transparency with city leadership and who controls school decisions.”
Asked to comment on the progress of the INF, ELi Executive Director and Publisher Beth Peck said, “We are so grateful to Vic Loomis for seeing this need and stepping up to the plate! And we are also so grateful to all the other donors who have joined the effort to bring East Lansing top quality investigative journalism in the public interest.”
Peck encourages readers to check out the investigative reporting ELi has already provided and to consider donating to the Investigative News Fund. ELi is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, which means that all donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed under law. Donate through this link.