How Is ELi Doing?

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

East Lansing Info's Publisher Alice Dreger outside her backyard office in the Oakwood neighborhood.

I am getting asked that a lot lately. We are doing okay, thank you.

A lot of local news organizations around the country are shutting down because the advertisements on which they relied have dried up in the face of lock-downs. But thanks to the model ELi set up six years ago, we are not reliant on advertising – we are reliant on the support of our readers, and so far, they are holding strong with their monthly commitments.

This is a huge relief, because a lot of the people we pay at ELi need the money for rent and food. We have been making a point of prioritizing work opportunities to non-dependents, some of whom have had other sources of income dry up. (You can make a monthly commitment of any amount via this page.)

Our expenses have gone up a lot in the last six weeks.

One reason was planned: we launched our new website, which has been in the works for months. The new site solves a host of problems and glitches we were facing, and it has greatly improved workflow for ELi Associate Publisher Natalie Rose and me.

We had planned before the pandemic to launch the new site while ELPS was due to be on spring break, and thanks to our tech managers Morgan Lees and Lisa Lees and to our general wrangler Ken Sperber and proofer Val Thonger, we kept that schedule. Phew! The cost of that transition, which was in our budget, is now past us.

The unexpected reason our expenses are up is the pandemic. Since the first rumblings of what was to come, so many people have been relying on us as a means of news and information conveyance. We’ve been working really hard to keep bringing the service. (Another special shout-out to reporter Emily Joan Elliott and photographer Gary Caldwell for taking on so much of the load of late.)

Since just before the Mayor declared a State of Emergency, we’ve been publishing about twice the rate of normal. Unsurprising to me, that reporting has been drawing praise from around the country as a model for what hyperlocal coronavirus news looks like. (See it all here.)

ELi has never spent money on maintaining a physical “newsroom,” so doing everything together remotely has been no logistical problem. It’s what we’ve always done. We’ve just ramped it up.

The limiting factor has been our own energy, which is taxed, of course, by the stress of what’s happening and by living in circumstances that are less-than-ideal for hard work.

The great news is that Natalie applied for and obtained for us a $5,000 grant for our COVID-19 reporting. The Lenfest Institute in partnership with the Facebook Journalism Project, Local Media Association, News Media Canada, and The Independent News Challenge gave a total of 400 local news organizations each a $5,000 grant, and we were one of them.

We are still going to need to be doing special fundraising to make it through this. The Institute for Nonprofit News, of which ELi is an active member, just announced they will help us with a special three-day mini campaign in early May. We will need to obtain advance local match commitments for that.

If you can commit to $250 or more for that early-May campaign, contact me now and I’ll put you on our match commitment list. If you can’t commit that much, know we will ask you for special donation help when we have matches lined up. (We ask you to wait because INN is talking about providing some bonus incentives if we raise an amount yet to be determined.)

In the meantime, we will keep working on keeping up with your information needs, and we will keep working to continue bringing non-virus news, not dropping the ball on important stories that still matter here, like police oversight, marijuana sales, and the DDA’s Evergreen properties.

Even as we are so grateful for having work and for your support of this work, we are trying not to get too exhausted or to exhaust you with hard news. Natalie and I talk each day about how we can bring more of what gives us relief – sports, arts, gardening. Thanks to Ann Kammerer, we are regularly bringing Little Local Joys, and tomorrow our lead Sports reporter Mark Meyer starts a new series for us, appreciating our young athletes.

If you will indulge me in a personal reflection:

I founded ELi about six months after the big ice storm and prolonged BWL power outage of Winter Solstice 2013. I remember during the outage feeling acutely the lack of a dedicated news and information source for East Lansing. When ELi came into being with the help of what was then a small team, I knew that if there were ever a big emergency, we would have a news team of our own.

It never occurred to me that we might face an emergency that would go on so long and be so potentially devastating medically and economically. But then it also never occurred to me that ELi would grow to have such an astonishing group of collaborators. (Meet our board and our staff, for starters.)

Those of us on the core work team feel so honored to be the hub of this rolling wheel.

We’ll keep working with and for you. Got questions, ideas, concerns? You know we always appreciate hearing from you. Thank you for being in this with us.

ELi has a special section dedicated to our reporting on COVID-19 for East Lansing. See it here and sign up for ELi’s mailer to stay informed.

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