What is ELi Working On For You?

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In case you missed it, a recent cover story in the Lansing City Pulse by Kyle Kaminski covered the decline of the Lansing State Journal. As Kamisnki notes, the problem isn’t the lack of skill or dedication on the part of the folks working at the LSJ. The problem is that the LSJ’s parent company, Gannett, has been steadily shrinking the LSJ because our local news market is not terribly profitable.

When I founded East Lansing Info (ELi), I could see the writing on the wall for what are now called “legacy newsrooms” – long-lived local newspapers like the LSJ. As more and more people expected news to be delivered to them for free, as news consumers moved more and more online, the economics of traditional newspapers just couldn’t hold.

How come the State News, the MSU student news organization, has been surviving? That organization – which frequently brings important independent reporting – is funded in large part by a special tax on MSU students. (Students can opt out, but they have to take action to do so.) That tax alone brings the State News sustainable revenue equal to about twice ELi’s annual budget.

That said, for reporting, the State News relies chiefly on students who are planning to go into the news business, and as those students figure out what is likely to pay for their student debt and health insurance post-graduation, the State News reporting has lately skewed heavily towards sports and away from local reporting.

Harley J. Seeley Photography

Alice Dreger, ELi’s Founder, Executive Director, and Publisher

When I founded ELi, I did so out of the firm belief that a democracy like East Lansing’s can’t really function if no one does the job of shining a bright light on the government. But to be honest, when I founded ELi, I didn’t think that much was going on in East Lansing. Wow, was I wrong.

Just in terms of my own reporting, I’ve had to cover for ELi’s readers well over a billion dollars of proposals for private-public redevelopment deals here. I’ve tracked a major health and environmental cover-up at our wastewater treatment plant, and followed the growth of the City’s pension liability, up about $66 million in just the last decade. I’ve reported on seven mayors in seven years.

But I am just one member of a vibrant reporting and editing team at ELi. In fact, these days, I often get my news from ELi just like you do: I sit down with a cup of coffee and read ELi’s website to find out what happened at last night’s meeting of the new Independent Police Oversight Commission or Parks & Rec Advisory Commission or East Lansing Public Schools’ Board of Education.

A sampling of just some of the reporting from Al Hargrave, Andrew Graham, Emily Elliott, and Heather Brothers, on ELi’s front page right now.

As I write, our reporting and editing team is working on stories about the library construction costs and this year’s millage renewal, the income tax and the pensions, the problems with the sewer system, the use of one-time federal pandemic dollars by the City, student misconduct at East Lansing public schools, use of force by our police officers, lawsuits against the City, the DDA’s Evergreen Properties debt, and the problems with the alcohol culture among MSU students who live in East Lansing.

These are the kinds of serious, in-depth stories that you truly will not get anywhere else with any regularity. But these issues are our bread-and-butter, because we know these are the stories that matter to the lives of people here.

I love what the ELi team brings under Managing Editor Emily Joan Elliott. I don’t mean that I love all the news – some of it is definitely painful. I mean that I love being that rare town in America that has an actual newspaper.

How come we do?

The main reason is that ELi uses a very different model from the LSJ (which derives revenue chiefly through advertising and subscriptions), the City Pulse (chiefly ads and publication of governmental public notices), and the State News (a tax on students plus ads). We use a nonprofit model that is run along the principal “take what you need, give what you can.”

The huge advantage of our model is the fact that we are aware, every day, of how much the quality of what we do locally matters to our survival. Far away, Gannett is looking at how many clicks LSJ stories produce and making decisions based on that. We ask our neighbor-donors why they give to keep ELi alive, and here are the kinds of things they tell us:

  • “We are so fortunate in East Lansing to have such excellent local reporting.”
  • “Your staff reports it so well, I can’t tell if you are left-leaning or right-leaning with your politics.”
  • “I am impressed to see the depth of reporting and the reporting team assembled.”
  • “You are like my personal Nixle alert for governmental absurdity.”
  • “You bring a critical eye to the City government.”
  • “I appreciate what you do – no one else is doing this locally.”

We survive because the ELi team brings a critically-important service people don’t want to lose. We are lucky that we don’t have to make decisions based on clicks, but on meaningfulness.

But the other reason ELi survives is that we keep expenses really low. We have no office. Most reporters are paid by-the-piece. Some of us donate some or all of our services, as we are so passionate about this mission. (See our most recent Fiscal Year report here.)

In all, ELi currently costs about $15,500 per month to produce. We estimate that we need $200,000 in total to get through 2022 in terms of keeping up the same level of quality reporting.

Right now, we have raised about $137,700 towards our 2022 Sustainability Campaign goal of $200,000. If you have already donated, thank you so very much.

If you haven’t, please know that, through Dec. 31, we have matching funds that can double any gift given – and that will match any monthly commitment at the annual rate (your monthly commitment x 12).

If you benefit from the news we bring, please, take it!

If there’s a question you want answered, or a story you want investigated, please do let us know; we exist specifically to serve.

And if you are in a position to be able to give, a little or a lot, and you haven’t done so, please help us out now. Thank you.

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