What ELi Did This Month and What It Cost
Above: Members of ELi’s Community Advisory Board, top row (left to right) Thasin Sadar, John Kloswick, Samual Hosey, Jr., Michael Krueger, Ann Nichols, Meg Croft, Beth Scanion, Alex Hosey; bottom row (left to right) Chris Root, Alice Dreger, Barbara Ball McClure.
This is the second installment in our new monthly feature to tell you what we’ve done in the last month and to explain approximately what it cost. We are doing this to be transparent with our readers and supporters, as ELi exists for this community as a public service news organization. It is, as we say, Your ELi.
ELi’s Community Advisory Board Is Live!
On February 28, we convened the first meeting of our new Community Advisory Board (CAB) at ELi Publisher Alice Dreger's house in the Oakwood neighborhood. In assembling the ELi CAB, we have aimed to bring together diverse perspectives, from long-time to recently-arrived residents, local business owners, and people of varying ages, ethnicities, races, religions, sexual orientations, and political persuasions.
CAB members include Barbara Ball McClure, Meg Croft, Alex Hosey, Sam Hosey, John Kloswick, Michael Krueger, Chris Root, Thasin Sadar, Beth Scanion, and Andrew Wells. (Andy was not able to join us for this week’s meeting.) We can already see the CAB is going to be a real asset in our work bringing you public service news.
At our meeting, we reviewed with the CAB members present the basic mission and methods of ELi and talked with them about what we hope they will do for us. (You can see the handout from that meeting here.) They gave us great feedback about how they think about the ratio of “hard” to “soft” news, a sense of where they see gaps in our reporting, ideas about how we might reach a broader audience, and more. We are very grateful to them for being willing to serve in this capacity when they are all very busy people!
The news we brought you:
In February, we continued reaching our mission of bringing you nonpartisan, non-editorial, nonprofit news of East Lansing that no one else is providing. In that relatively short month, we brought you 32 reports.
We started the month with Ann Kammerer’s report of The Friendshop at the East Lansing Public Library, which included an interview with Lanette Van Wagenen as well as the story of Marsha Bristor’s leadership in that project. Continuing coverage of local service projects that benefit the community, Ann Kammerer also reported on the Firecracker Foundation’s upcoming program on childhood sexual abuse and trauma.
ELi youth reporter John Paul Roboski covered the Backpack Program, which helps to bring food to families in need through the East Lansing Public Schools. Rosalind Arch interviewed Pastor Kit Carlson to bring news of Monday’s upcoming Diversity Festival at All Saints Church. Jessy Gregg reported from Council on the formal apology issued for East Lansing’s history of racist housing discrimination, an apology spurred by the actions and words of ELHS freshman Alex Hosey.
We continued our reporting on the City’s financial crisis, bringing you in-depth reporting that you won't get anywhere else. We informed you about why Council’s budget retreat was postponed, and Alice brought you a special report on how Council’s recent votes on pension credits could add uncertainty to the City’s “legacy” debt. Jessy Gregg explained the costs and uses of the Hannah Community Center, a resource that could be cut as part of budget management.
Chris Root and Alice Dreger brought you a report of the Finance Director Jill Feldpausch’s presentation of the City’s five-year budget forecast, showing the City is facing “staggering” pension costs with its fund balance in danger of slipping into the red. Chris followed up with an article explaining why and how City Council is looking to possibly raise new revenue, including through new taxes.
Karessa Wheeler, our chief Schools reporter, brought news of forums being held about planning for the new elementary schools, and she specifically reported on ideas for the new Glencairn Elementary School. Karessa also brought us news of the School Board’s resolution to ban guns from ELPS schools.
In one of our biggest stories this month, Sarah Spohn reported on the release of ELHS junior Ajah Montalvo’s very first single, “DMT.” Ajah and her father Robert spoke with Sarah about the challenges of balancing a budding singing career and a busy high school schedule.
As we try to expand our reach to the seniors in our community, Christopher Wardell interviewed Kelly Arndt, Program Director for East Lansing’s Prime Time Seniors’ Program, and Dr. James Levande of the Seniors Commission to bring news of the City’s pursuit of an Age-Friendly Community designation from AARP.
This month saw a great boost for our Arts & Entertainment programming as the Responsible Hospitality Council and a group of area restaurants stepped up together to provide sponsorships for the next year to ELi! For March, the Arts & Entertainment sponsor is Beggar’s Banquet, an East Lansing institution.
As part of our Arts & Entertainment work this past month, Christopher Wardell covered the Michigan duo “Gifts or Creatures” appearing at The Peoples Church. Peoples also saw, this past month, a celebration of bagpipes and highland dance, featuring Duncan Petersen-Jones, as previewed for us by ELi's Managing Editor, Ann Nichols.
Christopher Wardell also brought our readers advance notice of the appearances of Ukes and Steel, singer-songwriter Irish Mythen, and violinists Rachael Kilgour and Sara Pajunen at Ten Pound Fiddle, along with artist Heather Styka at the Orchard Street Pump House. Peyton Lombardo reported on the annual Quiet Water Symposium, which will take place tomorrow.
In development reporting, Jessy Gregg brought information about opportunities to provide input on the City’s draft Master Plan, we explained why Georgio’s on Grand River Avenue has closed, and Ann traced the in-depth conversation at Planning Commission about the zoning of marijuana provisioning centers.
On a break from development reporting, Alice got to do a series of reports on the rise of floodwaters in East Lansing last week. This included bringing news of Department of Public Works (DPW) Director Scott House encouraging residents to call DPW if they were facing flooded basements and DPW’s offer to help some with clean-up.
Alice also reported on the City’s continuing refusal to provide documents related to the retaining wall federal fraud suit settlement, and on the City Manager asking his staff to produce weekly news for East Lansing residents.
A look behind the scenes:
ELi readers may not realize that, before a story makes it to your screen, a lot of things have to happen. Since we respect our readers too much to rely on quoting press releases, even when we are asked to cover something by being sent a lengthy press release, we need to do real legwork. That's mostly Ann's responsibility as our Managing Editor: to get reporters connected to stories and sources, to shape stories so that they fit our high standards and our readers' needs, and to get them to our busy readers so they don't miss reports they will want to know about.
One example is our upcoming story on this year's musical at East Lansing High School. Once it was on our radar, Ann had to find a reporter who was interested and had the time (our reporters are busy people and many have "day jobs"), and use her connections in East Lansing to find out who was in the show and might be a good interview subject. Then, because the participants are minors and not public figures, she had to get appropriate permission before sending a reporter to ask them questions.
After the reporter does her interviews and attends a rehearsal to take photos, she will still have to write the story, and Ann will still has to edit for clarity and style and make sure all the facts are correct before it's publication-worthy. It's a lot of work, but it's totally worth it to showcase the talent of local high school students and to inform as many people as possible about the chance to enjoy a performance featuring their children, their neighbors' kids...the youth of our community.
Another example: the story we just published on the lawsuit related to mercury and asbestos exposure at East Lansing's waste water treatment plant. For this story, Ann had to do a lot of work helping Alice understand what should go into and be left out of this report. She had to review documents to make sure we were representing the legal issues correctly (this is where Ann's J.D. comes in especially handy) and she had to go over several rounds of drafts to fix problems with the story in terms of readability and clarity.
Then, when it was published, Ann had to manage getting the story out on social media (as she does with all stories) and answering reader questions about it. Then she had to work on deciding what kind of follow-up ELi should be doing. At least half of what ELi digs up you never see, sometimes because we don't have enough information to provide a clear report, sometimes because a report is just getting to be too long, sometimes because a story turns out to be not very interesting (and we are committed to not wasting your time).
So, what you see reported at ELi is only about the top-third of what we actually are working on at any given time. And that doesn't even count all the follow-up (which lands mostly on Ann's plate).
What did it cost?
In February, our expenses again came to about $6,000, and as usual, the great majority (about 85%) went to paying local people to work for us. In February, we paid 13 people to work for ELi (reporters, editors, tech), not counting the folks at Layton & Richardson who handle our payroll and tax reporting. (Alice volunteers her service to ELi, as do some of our reporters.)
What we have cooking in terms of organizational growth:
Ann is now working with an MSU grad who is a marketing expert, to produce materials that will help expand our reach into the community as we continue to look to bring in new readers, more citizen reporters, and additional donors. It’s important to us to make sure that all the people who might benefit from ELi’s community service know about it. She has also connected with students from an MSU Community Sustainability class who will be working with her on community outreach with a focus on senior citizens and schools.
We are also continuing to work with programs of the Institute for Nonprofit News and LION Publishers to learn more about how to maximize the reach of ELi through social media, including Facebook and Google.
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Thanks to everyone who contributes to the work of ELi!