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Above, from left: Natalie Rose, Alice Dreger, and new ELi reporter Emily Joan Elliott at East Lansing's Blue Owl Coffee (photo by Raymond Holt)
As founder and Publisher of East Lansing Info (ELi), it is my pleasure to report that the ELi Board of Directors has voted unanimously on my recommendation to hire Natalie Rose as Associate Publisher of ELi.
I am writing today to give you an inside glimpse at why we’ve made this move and to explain what Natalie is doing for the organization you have come to rely on for nonpartisan, public-service, local news.
As ELi has grown and succeeded beyond my wildest dreams, the amount of work I do voluntarily for ELi has expanded exponentially. I have been running the nonprofit corporation as CEO, functioning as editor for Government and Schools reporting, acting as the director of development (fundraising), serving as President of the Board of Directors, and doing what I love most – being a reporter of meaningful news and information for the people of East Lansing.
I probably would have collapsed in early 2019 were it not for our hiring Jodi Spicer as Office Manager in late 2018. Jodi has changed my daily ELi work life for the better. Jodi now manages our employment paperwork, payroll, bookkeeping, donations, and various aspects of our communications. Her enthusiasm for ELi’s mission is contagious and she has positively influenced many aspects of our work beyond fundraising.
Jodi was such a genius at managing the donor data for our annual Sustainability Campaign that I have strongly recommended her to NewsMatch and the Institute for Nonprofit News as a presenter at their conventions, because other local nonprofit news organizations can definitely learn from her systemization.
But even with Jodi’s help, by the last-quarter of last year, I found myself completely overwhelmed with the needs of ELi. Talking with heads of sister nonprofit news organizations, I became convinced I had to hire someone who could take over much of my work as Publisher. The harder-to-replace jobs I knew I need to keep doing for ELi are (a) development director and (b) investigative reporter.
But, my colleagues from nonprofit news organizations in other states warned me, hiring someone into a top leadership position would require me to add training that person to all my other jobs, likely leading to . . . well, death by exhaustion.
Turns out they were right about the first thing – that I needed to hire someone into a top leadership position – but wrong about the second – that training the person would kill me. That’s because Natalie Rose is just that good.
Instead of overwhelming me with training needs, Natalie has very quickly taken over a number of tasks with just the tiniest bit of training and support from me. She is now doing our story-wrangling, a seriously complicated job that involves intake of pitches and tips, assignment of reporting and photography, and production. She is also acting as an additional editor alongside me and Mark Meyer, which has been critically important as I’m still doing so many jobs. (And she’s a really good editor!) She’s even been finding and hiring more reporters, something I thought she would not be able to take on for a few more months.
Perhaps most importantly, Natalie has moved seamlessly into the role of thinking about the long-game and the big picture. She’s been working on organizing the flow of decision-making on the challenging “what do we report and how?” question from the Board of Directors to the Community Advisory Board to our reporters and tipsters. Her judgment is excellent – on par with that of our fantastic long-time Managing Editor Ann Nichols (who is now on our Board of Directors). She gets the job done with a minimum of fuss and a fine sense of humor.
Flash back to Fall 2019 – some of my national publisher-colleagues had told me it might be impossible to identify someone who could take on the weird set of roles that being a publisher in a small-local-news environment requires. My reply was this: I believe that in a town with a big university, there will be someone who is energetic, underemployed, and has a similar set of skills to mine.
Turns out I was right – and it turns out Natalie’s background is also very similar to mine, oddly enough. She has a Ph.D. in History from MSU (mine is a Ph.D. in History of Science from Indiana University), a long-time interest in journalism (she has experience with documentary filmmaking!), and her life changed with having a young child (I gave up tenure at MSU a few years after I had mine). While she was born in Flint, Michigan, Natalie grew up in New York City, and I grew up not far away, on Long Island.
I am thrilled now to have this incredible help and excellent company at the leadership level! Natalie came with a strong recommendation from Jason Schreiber, founder of LightSpeed and supporter of ELi, and he sure wasn’t wrong. Natalie's background, personality, and positive demeanor means she comes to ELi ready, able, and mission-focused. Given the great job she's been doing for the last several months, our plan is to move her into the position of Publisher around mid-year 2020.
If you’re worried that this means ELi is changing, don’t. I’m not going anywhere, the organization is staying on course, and we are in good shape thanks to our donors coming through on our year-end Sustainability Campaign! You may now occasionally hear from Natalie when you’re expecting to hear from Alice, but I think you will find, as I have, that she’s a great person to connect with.
These changes are making it possible for my own work for ELi to be sustainable, including my work as lead investigative reporter and fundraiser-in-chief. We can keep doing what we've been doing, but doing it even better.
Thank you for making it possible for such a wonderful team of people to bring you local news that matters. Thanks to you, information flows here in a less obstructed manner than it otherwise would, people are connecting with others they would not otherwise know, and voters know so much more when they mark their East Lansing ballots. It is our privilege to be doing this work for you!
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