ELi Sees Staffing Changes, Some Big and Some Small

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Tuesday, May 14, 2019, 8:18 am
Alice Dreger, Publisher

Every time some government or newspaper industry representative asks me to complete a survey asking how many people East Lansing Info (ELi) employs, I am stumped.

The reason we are sustainable – unlike many local news organizations in America – is that we are not anything like a conventional business. We use a model that blends volunteerism and paid work and that allows contributors to help and retreat as their lives require.

What you see at ELi looks pretty steady.

What I see behind the scenes is a big, flexible group of people with ever-changing lives who, individually and as a group, are dedicated to the idea that East Lansing deserves real, nonpartisan news that informs citizens, empowers voters, increases media literacy, connects people to resources, and hopefully improves community life and strengthens democracy.

The end of spring and start of summer always means changes for us. Some of our younger reporters graduate and move on. Others who are college students spend the summer in East Lansing and have time to work for us. As the daffodils bloom, some of our senior citizen reporters return home from warmer places and take ELi work back up, and others decide it’s time to be outside, not in meetings, and they pull back on contributing reporting.

This summer, Andrew Graham, who is working toward a degree in journalism at Syracuse University, will be home again and covering some big stories for us. We’ll also have Jonathan Townley, home from Kalamazoo College, working on a major community-connecting project for us. Maysa Sitar, Vice President for Government Relations at ASMSU, will be doing non-government reporting for us, including picking up some ELPS stories.

At the same time, we have more transitions than usual going on among our regular reporting and editing staff.

Dan Totzkay is heading off with his new Ph.D. to a tenure-track job in the Department of Communication Studies at West Virginia University, Chris Wardell is expecting his first child, and Jessy Gregg just opened Seams, a new fabric and sewing store downtown. Sarah Spohn has been reinventing her work life approach and will likely be working on more stories for us. And three of our core staff members – Chris Root, Val Thonger and Ken Sperber – are adjusting to lives with new grandbabies.

The biggest transition for us happens this week, as our Managing Editor Ann Nichols is stepping out of that role to take a position with a local law firm, using more of her J.D. skills as well as her expert writing skills, and hopefully enjoying a less chaotic work life than a newspaper offers.

Ann has been our Managing Editor for over four years, and much of the positive growth – quantitative and qualitative – that you’ve seen at ELi over that period has been due to her leadership. The ELi Board of Directors and the staff is hugely grateful for what she has done for the organization and community.

I personally feel forever in her debt, and I want to recognize explicitly here the significant personal cost of the work Ann has done. Leading the reporting of hard news in a small town, particularly one that’s been your home most of your life, is no easy thing.

Ann and I are hoping that her new work life will give her space to do more placemaking writing for us, as with her wonderful (and much missed) Ann About Town column. She is also still going to be helping us as a spot editor for stories that benefit from her legal skills, including reports on tricky ordinances and complicated lawsuits.

But it will take a fair bit of adjusting to have this role change at ELi. In the coming months, the boost in summer reporting staff will help free me up from reporting to work with our Board of Directors, Community Advisory Board, and core staff to rework ELi’s operational structure to continue to maximize the amount of high-quality news we bring you in exchange for your donations to this operation.

You’ll also see a little less reporting from me this summer as I’ll be trying to bring in more foundation grants to supplement those local donations so that we can keep improving our service, especially as we head into the fall with new schools, local elections, and the opening of the Center City project downtown.

We’ll keep making this work for you. The ELi team continues to be wonderfully responsive to each others’ life changes and needs, and that is one of the reasons I find it such a privilege to lead this community asset. I can’t count the number of times the staff has covered for me when I’ve been ill or had to attend to my elderly parents’ medical crises. This is just a fantastic group.

As evidence of that, in the immediate, various team members have stepped up to pick up parts of the job Ann has been doing. Thanks on that front go especially to Mark Meyer for taking on substantial editing work, Jodi Spicer for office management, and Jessy Gregg for working on our Facebook-based service.

I also need to thank you all for making it possible for East Lansing to have a sustainable, dedicated local news operation. As I read today about the city of New Orleans losing its long-time newspaper and having the survivor put its news behind a paywall, I am more aware than ever of how lucky we are to have a community that supports an independent press that is free to everyone here who wants to access real news.

Thank you for making it possible for us to bring East Lansing the news. Consider pitching in today to keep it coming strong.



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