East Lansing Info’s Annual Report for 2018

Thursday, January 31, 2019, 6:49 pm
By: 
Alice Dreger, Publisher

East Lansing Info (ELi) serves as this community’s dedicated independent local news organization. We are a public service news organization, operating in 2018 entirely on funds donated by readers, using local citizens as reporters. Our work is nonpartisan, noneditorial, and nonprofit.

Today we bring you this report on our activities in 2018, including details on our income and expenses. We do this in part to remind you that no one owns ELi. While ELi is run by me as Publisher (functioning also as CEO) and Ann Nichols as Managing Editor, and is overseen by a voluntary Board of Directors, ELi belongs to this community.

Because ELi is a community asset, it’s important to us that you know what kind of care we are taking with it. That’s why we show you income and expenses on a regular basis, and why we bring you the Your ELi column, which helps to explain our work for you.

It’s also why a good deal of our reporting originates from questions, concerns, and tips that our readers submit to us, and it’s why we use local citizens as reporters.

Our work here isn’t just about news delivery. It’s about creating a healthy news ecosystem in East Lansing – one where we support transparency in government, media literacy, and productive democratic engagement.

ELi’s 2018 by the numbers:

In 2018, East Lansing Info provided about 575 original news reports by a total of 34 reporters. The reporting team included a handful of volunteers and a bevy of citizens paid per-report, including graduates of our 2017 and 2018 Summer Youth Journalism Program.

Approximately 500 people donated a total of $106,461 to ELi. This is much higher than the average year because our 2018 Sustainability Campaign ran December 2017-January 2018, whereas our 2019 Sustainability Campaign shifted to November-December 2018, because of NewsMatch. That means that, in 2018, we had big donation spikes in January, November, and December, whereas in most years we had or will have only two months of spikes.

Our main page continues to be sponsored by LightSpeed, our weekly mailer by Crunchy’s, and our Arts & Entertainment reporting by the Responsible Hospitality Council and area restaurants (including Beggar’s Banquet, Harrison Roadhouse, The Riv, and Rick’s). Lou & Harry’s picked up sponsorship of Sports reporting for us in 2018.

Now here’s a look at our 2018 expenses, which came to a total of $87,390.

You can see that our largest “expense” continues to be paying local folks. That’s not just reporters. It’s also the people who work with us as editors, tech managers, and as office help. (I volunteer my labor for ELi as publisher, CEO, and investigative reporter, which is ELi’s chief form of savings over most local news operations.)

Our second largest expense continues to be paying Facebook to let us alert potential readers to local news. The “Advertising/Promotion” total also includes things like printed materials for hand-outs to new audiences and costs of t-shirts for reporters and donors, but the bulk of this expense is paying Facebook for “boosts.”

We would rather pay Facebook nothing, but our stats show us we’d reach only about half our current audience if we did that, and we would also struggle to reach new folks. Frustratingly, even though we pay Facebook, the social media giant still makes it really hard for us to get news out via that system.

“Credit card charges” came to about $2,500 in 2018. When donors give by check, that’s free to us. But in 2018, most donors gave to us using credit cards, for ease. The systems we use to obtain those donations (PayPal, GiveGab, Patreon, and EventBrite) charge us fees ranging from about 4% to as high as 10%. We always try to nudge people towards the lowest-cost options, but we don’t want to turn away donations, so we put up with the expenses charged to us.

The category of “business-related expenses” is a bit of a catch-all, so let me unpack it. We spent $740 on accounting fees including payroll management; $331 on our memberships to the Institute for Nonprofit News and LION Publishers, plus $95 for me to attend the LION annual conference; $305 on office supplies, chiefly stationery and envelopes for letters to donors; $101 for two lunches for the Summer Youth participants; and $20 for our annual LARA corporate registration.

Computer expenses were higher than normal this year because, for the first time in four years, we bought Ann a new computer, as her old one was dying.

“Reporting-related expenses” includes fees paid to SurveyMonkey for surveying our readers, costs for obtaining court records and deed records for stories, Freedom of Information Act charges, and a subscription to the Lansing State Journal.

Because of NewsMatch and our readers’ tremendous response, we have been able to come into 2019 with enough funding to get us through the year, barring extraordinary circumstances.

A qualitative look at ELi’s production in 2018:

While the national media continues to report on the rapid die-off of local news organizations, through ELi, East Lansing enjoyed the kind of steady, reliable, nonpartisan reporting that few cities do. Even Lansing – Michigan’s capital city – doesn’t have regular, in-depth reporting on its public School Board or City Council like East Lansing does.

The ELi “Gov Gang” made up the biggest single block of ELi reporters, as you might imagine. We covered the income tax vote, the City’s financial crisis, big development, the pain and the politics of parking, court consolidation talks, public safety and crime, Parks & Rec including trails improvements, Council Members’ votes and actions, the proliferation of scooters, a driveway drama, and so much more.

As the leader of the Gov Gang, I’d like to express my personal thanks to this incredible reporting team: Chris Root, Jessy Gregg, Dan Totzkay, Casandra Eriksen, Andrew Graham, and our newest addition, Brad Minor. It’s an incredible privilege for me to work with a group of people so dedicated to public service local journalism. These are people who truly believe in your right to know what your government is doing.

In 2018, Paige Filice brought us a fantastic series of reports on our local environment, Karessa Wheeler took the lead for us on Schools reporting, Mark Meyer joined ELi to provide terrific high school sports reporting, and Sarah Spohn and Chris Wardell brought us so much great Arts & Entertainment news.

Ann Kammerer brought us a series of profiles so remarkable, Ann Nichols named “The Kammerer Stories” as a class at the top of her list of feel-good reads from 2018.

Below: ELi's 2018 Summer Youth Journalism participants

In 2018, we also benefitted from great reporting by Roz Arch, Andrew Barsom, Thomas Baumann, Gary Beaudoin, Evan Dempsey, Kepler Domurat-Sousa, Alex Hosey, James Hosey, Noa Kuszai, Peyton Lombardo, Emma McIlhagga, Amalia Medina, Thao Nguyen, Tom Oswald, John Paul Roboski, Somer Sodeman, Aron Sousa, Ken Sperber, Colleen Steinman, and Lucas Walters.

One of the big thrills of 2018 for me personally was being able to accept the Crystal Award, East Lansing’s annual award for public service, on behalf of the entire operation that is ELi. To see this team recognized in this way is just an absolute joy.

Speaking of which, in 2018, we were also recognized nationally!

In 2018, national media experts really started paying attention to how ELi does what it does, seeing in it what we do: a chance to reawaken an appreciation of high-quality, old-fashioned journalism in America from the ground up.

In 2018, work at ELi was featured in The Christian Science Monitor, the Lenfest Institute’s report on local news operations, the Poynter report on local news (twice), The Guardian (in a guest op-ed by me), and The Membership Puzzle Project’s report on news operations like ours that engage audiences in news production.

This also marked the first year ELi applied to and was accepted into the national NewsMatch program, which is run by The Miami Foundation and sponsored by Democracy Fund, the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, the Facebook Journalism Project, the Gates Family Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Knight Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Rita Allen Foundation, and the Wyncote Foundation.

NewsMatch is key part of what made it possible for us to raise $80,000 in our year-end campaign.

Thank you.

To those of you who engage with the project that is ELi as readers, tipsters, donors, reporters, editors, managers, helpers, and all-around supporters, thank you for making it possible for us to bring East Lansing the news.

 

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