East Lansing Info (ELi) is rapidly approaching what to us is an exciting milestone: 100 citizen-reporters. In fact, our Summer Youth Journalism Program is sure to put us at that mark, if we have not already reached it by August.
We have now had about 90 citizen-reporters, not including the many people who have, at our request, functioned as in-depth sources for our readers—people like City Clerk Marie Wicks, who informed our readers about how to use the Freedom of Information Act, former City Treasurer Mary Haskell, who helped our readers understand the source of our City’s debt, and Police Chief Jeff Murphy, who explained for our readers what policing tactics are used on his force.
Our citizen-reporters have included everyone from high school students to professional journalists, from a third-grader to multiple octogenarians. Many have written about what they themselves are involved in, from blood donation to children’s theatre to co-ed friendly soccer. Some—like Chris Root, Jessy Gregg, Karessa Wheeler, and Mike Teager—have opted to take on the challenging and important work of government and schools reporting.
This was the vision when ELi started. We would draw on the embedded knowledge of people in our community to share with everyone, at no charge, news and information about East Lansing. Some reporters would opt to be paid, others to volunteer, others to be paid but to donate back their earnings. We would treat all reporters equally in terms of expectations, pay scale, and respect.
That’s what we’ve done. Today, you can see the incredible results.
As we come to the end of our third fiscal year, East Lansing now has what we think no other community in America does: a fully-functional, sustainable, nonpartisan, nonprofit, citizen-reported public news service.
People in the know tell us we’ve changed this town. Not only is citizen participation in government and elections up, there’s a much greater city-wide expectation of transparency and accountability, as well as a greater sense of the breadth of opportunities available to local folks. There’s a place where people can turn to ask questions without fear of retribution or of looking impolite for asking. Busy people can keep track of what’s going on at School Board and City Council by paying a little something into our tax-deductible public service to make that happen.
Most of all, because we use a citizen-reporter model, there’s a sense that everyone should be involved in the sharing of important news and information. While other communities decry the death of local news, here in East Lansing, local news is flourishing.
On this, another election day in our City, we just wanted to say thank you to all of you who have made this possible, and to encourage those of you who haven’t yet become reporters or financial supporters to consider doing so. It’s easy.