I appreciate how many of you are writing and calling to ask, “How is ELi doing?” Some of you are seeing the bad news about other local news organizations shutting down around the nation, and you are sharing with us what you’re finding about survival strategies that could help ELi. Thank you.
You’re reading about real estate developer Scott Chappelle’s lawsuit against us for my reporting on his business practices and criminal indictment, and you’re recognizing this is a high-stress situation that is taking a lot of my energy and time, as I work with our excellent press-rights lawyer, Brian Wassom. Thank you.
How are we doing?
Well, as you can see at eastlansinginfo.news and hear on the East Lansing Insider podcast, we are still doing our job for you by bringing the news no one else does in East Lansing and continuing to do serious investigative work of the kind that necessarily “names names” and holds those in power accountable. We are doing our best to address your information needs.
As I look to the heartbreaking disaster in Surfside, Florida, I’ve personally been thinking as ELi’s Publisher about whether we are doing enough to uncover breaks in our public safety systems before disaster strikes – whether that’s in terms of investigating MISS DIG and unmarked gas mains, policing and prosecution, fire review in new construction, and environmental problems at our wastewater treatment plant. We recognize that ELi is part of the local safety net, and we take that seriously.
But this work is not easy.
People understandably call us all the time for help and witnessing. Some people we call out fight back, and in the case of someone like Chappelle, they have businesses working in the tens of millions, while we run this news service on about $175,000 per year in total. (That’s why we’re still here.)
I spend a lot of nights lying awake stressed out about ELi, thinking about meeting payroll, thinking about how to balance our short-term responsibilities (tell it like it is) with our long-term responsibilities (don’t burn up too many resources on any one story).
The hardest thing, as I told a reader this morning, is getting people to donate. Some people don’t think of news as “public service,” and others think any public service should be funded by the government or by grants.
We are independent of the government as we report on it. (The one exception was our forgiven federal PPP loan last year.)
And we struggle to get grants. Many philanthropists, including business-founded charities, see investigative news as too hot to handle. They figure it is better to fund animal rescue, early childhood education, or food banks, which are, of course, all good causes.
The national funders don’t see East Lansing, Michigan, as a high-need news region. They can see there are other news organizations here doing occasional reporting on our City and schools and local businesses; sure, their work is nothing like what we do, but they are here enough to dip in and cover if a major disaster or political event happens, right?
And national funders look at our population and don’t see widespread areas of vulnerable populations – even if we see the disparities that need reporting. They also wonder how we can be a real news organization if we run on less than $200,000 per year.
Meanwhile, ELi’s money in the bank is low again. We didn’t raise what we had hoped in our last sustainability campaign, although we did raise a record $134,000. Our expenses are running at about $12,500 per month, not counting extraordinary legal expenses from the Chappelle suit or our upcoming Summer Youth Journalism Program. We have about $53,719 in the bank, before we pay the June payroll. We are receiving about $5,000 per month in donations. It’s tight.
Here’s one thing we’re doing right now: Jason and Nikki Schreiber, my spouse Aron Sousa and I, and an anonymous national donor have put together $7,500 in committed matching funds to patch the gap for our Youth Journalism programming. As our Managing Editor Emily Joan Elliott and I have explained, if we can use those funds to get to the matched cap – obtaining $15,000 in total in this campaign – then we will have funds to take care of that part of our mission, and also work with our young videographer Gary Caldwell to create onboarding reporter videos that will save me and Emily a ton of time and energy in the future.
Our deadline for this Youth Journalism campaign is July 4 – the day we celebrate American Independence including, for those of us who love ELi, the freedom of an independent press in America.
We have raised a total of $4,210 so far. Thank you to those of you who have stepped up. We delight in every supportive dollar and word. Every $100 you give pushes us $200 closer to the goal. (UPDATE: ELi supporters have responded generously! As of July 1 at 4:30 p.m., we have reached $13,965, which means we need just $517.50 in new donations to leverage the full match and hit our goal of $15,000. Thank you!)
If you care about ELi and can help us meet our mission, now is the time. There are many ways to give, all shown at our “donate” page. Every new donation given during this time will be matched as we head to the $15,000 goal.
But the challenge honestly remains getting people to recognize there is no magic solution to saving local journalism in America.
The way we save it here at ELi is this: We work really hard to do excellent work for this community, understanding investigative independent local news to be a critical public service. We hope you understand and appreciate it enough to pitch in. We make sure we don’t waste a single dollar.
And we stay as long as we possibly can. Thank you.
Note: ELi will be on a publishing break for the first full week of July, barring extraordinary emergencies. This break gives us a chance to rest, do background administrative work, and reduce expenses for July. ELPS School Board and City Council do not meet that week. Thanks for understanding.