Survey Says…You Want ELi to Be a Traditional News Organization

Tuesday, January 16, 2018, 7:17 am
Alice Dreger

As we face the question of potentially having to scale back our reporting due to inadequate financial support from our thousands of readers, it makes sense for us to ask what our readers value most in ELi’s work right now.

Where are we in the fundraising? ELi’s 2018 Sustainability Campaign, which has a goal of $100,000 by January 31, is today exactly one dollar short of $55,000. The absolute minimum we can run on this year, when we work up the bare-bones budget, is $80,000. Please contribute (more) now, and push people you know to do the same. We need you.

So, on to the survey:

We didn’t push our most recent survey out very hard—we specifically wanted the most dedicated readers to give us their feedback—and this time we had 133 respondents. The results were, as always, quite interesting to ELi’s Managing Editor Ann Nichols and our Board of Directors (which met yesterday). The main message we discerned was this:

You want ELi to be a traditional news organization.

That’s not to say you want us to go to printing on paper—something that is way too expensive and resource-consuming. But it is to say you want us to uphold traditional journalistic standards, including:

  • Striving to report in a nonpartisan fashion.
  • Being responsive to our specific community’s news needs.
  • Doing hard-hitting investigative reporting.
  • Showing our sources.
  • Pushing for transparency in government.
  • Holding government and elected officials accountable.
  • Following the money.

Our respondents were most interested in having us cover major local governmental actions and decisions, City finances (including taxes and spending), local campaigns, and big development.

While they were still clearly interested in “softer” news—something we find to be true in readership patterns—the news they valued most highly is the harder-hitting reports, along with consistent coverage of City Council and School Board.

Responses to our question about how readers access our articles confirmed what we already knew: over half of our readers are accessing our work through Facebook. You may have read this past weekend about ways that Facebook is probably about to make it harder for us to get our article to our readers that way unless ELi pays Facebook more money.

Along with our fellow local independent online publishers, we’re still mulling exactly what will be the impact to ELi’s readership of Facebook’s newest algorithms. One thing is clear: we need to continue to diversify our means of reaching readers, so that we’re not dependent on going through a fickle and huge corporation to get our work out to you. The best thing you can do to help us manage the Facebook challenge is to sign up for our weekly newsletter, which costs us nothing to send and which promises you a full week’s digest of ELi news on Friday afternoon. And if you’re on Facebook, double-check that your settings are optimized to see ELi’s latest news.

A few dozen of our respondents opted to send us qualitative feedback at the end of the survey. We love all the love, of course! Here’s some of that:

  • “Fantastic resource!”
  • “This is my ‘go-to-source’ for all things happening in East Lansing, especially recently with all the big developments. As a MSU student, I enjoy having a reliable and consistently updated site to learn what’s going on in my town.”
  • “Hooray for local investigative journalism!”
  • “You folks are WONDERFUL. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!”
  • “You are the best. The very best. Have never read news coverage so thorough that sometimes I cry ‘Uncle.’”
  • “You all do an incredibly wonderful job. Thank you.”
  • “Glad you’re here.”
  • “Thank you for being such an amazing source of information about what goes on in the EL area. I only wish other news organizations were as good as ELi.”

There were also some criticisms which we, as always, are taking and discussing. One thing we keep hearing loudly and clearly is that you want us to show you raw materials on which we base our reporting. So, you can read the full survey results by clicking here!

The most common concern raised by readers continues to be the potential for bias. We want to remind you that a way you can help with this is to become a reporter with us. The more people we have reporting with us, the more diverse perspectives we can bring to the stories we need to report, the more we can work to mitigate potential bias. One thing we’ve learned doing ELi—especially during the income tax debate—there is a lot more viewpoint diversity in this city than people often realize.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to the survey and thanks especially to the folks stepping up for the first time to become financial supporters to ELi. This campaign will take us to over 600 individual donors! See who they are.

Now…who wants to give us that dollar and put us at $55,000? Better yet, who wants to give us $1,001?


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