What ELi Did in May, and What It Cost

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Tuesday, June 5, 2018, 3:20 pm
Alice Dreger, Publisher

Photo shows a May gathering of the ELi core reporting team. Back row, from left: Aron Sousa, Paige Filice, Karessa Wheeler, Ken Sperber, Ann Kammerer, Alice Dreger, Chris Wardell, Val Thonger. Front row, from left: Jessy Gregg, Chris Root, Sarah Spohn, Ann Nichols, Andrew Graham.

In January, we started bringing you monthly reports of our work and what it costs. We are finding that a lot of people who read these reports better understand our work as a result. That’s great—we are East Lansing’s dedicated public nonprofit news organization, and we want to be maximally transparent with you about our work.

As you read this, ask yourself: What would your life here be like if ELi didn’t do this digging and reporting for you? What did you know about before ELi? If you’d like to contribute funds or effort to keep this work going at the pace you expect, please do so today. Thank you!

ELi’s production and costs, in summary, for May:

For the month of May 2018, we had 13 local people work as reporters for us, and together they brought 56 news reports on a wide variety of topics. It cost only about $5,300, as detailed below. This past month, two donors stepped up to provide $1,000 each, which bought us real reporting time, away from having to do fundraising.

In the chart below, "content distribution" refers chiefly to fees we pay to Facebook to get our reports out to readers who use that platform. PayPal and Patreon charges are service charges we have to pay on donations that come to us that way. (PayPal charges us about 4%, and Patreon about 10%.) "Donor relations" this month refers to the purchasing of stamps for sending out letters to donors.

As usual, the great majority (about 83%) of our costs went to paying local people to work for us. In May, 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. (I volunteer all my services to ELi, as do some of our other staff/contributors.)

We continued to enjoy wide community support financially in May, having now reached over 600 individual donors and with local internet provider LightSpeed continuing its generous support of our website. We also want to thank Crunchy’s for continuing sponsorship of our weekly newsletter (sign up for free), and Harrison Roadhouse for sponsoring our Arts & Entertainment reporting in May.

Because we did not reach our sustainability goal this past January, we are now in the period where we are drawing down on the ELi bank account. We will need to put effort into fundraising again soon, which unfortunately takes time away from reporting. If you’d like to contribute funds, please do so today. Thank you!

The big story:

In May, the big story was City Council making significant budget cuts and deciding to put a new income tax proposal on the August 7 ballot. Chris Root, Jessy Gregg, and I kept you apprised of public hearings and financial discussions, letting you know that Council was looking at an August income tax ballot proposal, advising you about the public hearings, and telling you what the proposal looked like once Council took definitive action.

Jessy also brought an in-depth report on cuts happening to emergency services, and she looked at what will happen if the Aquatic Center is closed for budgetary reasons.

I reported for you on the cuts to social service agencies, including Council’s split-decision about Haven House, and I pushed City leaders to answer for our readers the question: “Would an income tax really solve East Lansing’s budget woes?” Read their answers here.

Chris Root did massive amounts of investigation into the Financial Health Team’s recommendations and the question of whether Council followed those. In fact, that work stretched back a few months, but you saw the results in May.

On May 1, we published Chris’s “Ask ELi” on the question of whether the City has done all it can to reduce East Lansing’s pension costs. Attached to that were five sub-articles by Chris. On May 21, we published the second big report from Chris, Did Council Follow the Financial Health Team’s Pension Recommendations? That linked to six additional related sub-articles, listed at the bottom of the main article.

And we didn’t ignore what else East Lansing’s government was up to:

Andrew Graham let you know Council was considering changing the laws about fire pits in East Lansing, and reported for you on what they decided in a 4-1 vote. I reported on a downtown development project sent into limbo via Council’s decision not to act, and on the Center City District’s partners’ reunion/celebration, including Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley coming to East Lansing for that.

We also let you know about one company’s interest in developing a spa-like medical marijuana provisioning center where Cosi used to be.

Plus more news you won’t get anywhere else:

In one of the biggest stories of the month, Tom Oswald reported for ELi on MSU’s plans for multi-generational housing in an area that would fall in the ELPS district. Also helping to report on town-gown connections was Christopher Wardell, who brought us the story of the Broad Art Lab opening downtown.

Tom Oswald’s work for ELi actually debuted this month with his report on the Peace Education Center’s Awards to local leaders. Ann Kammerer reported for us on a mobile health clinic bringing services to the Edgewood Village Apartments.

Karessa Wheeler reported on projects coming out of the ELHS Intercultural Dialogue. Jessy Gregg brought us the news of Cole Academy opening a new school in East Lansing. And I reported on the Lounge Six hookah parlor having been involved in three gun incidents in ten days.

The Happiness Offensive:

Elections inevitably cause strife. So, once it became clear East Lansing is facing an August 7 election on an income tax, ELi’s Managing Editor Ann Nichols and I talked about how to make sure we keep people from feeling overwhelmed and burned out from reading local news this summer. We decided to try to up to “happiness news” quotient. I started calling this “The Happiness Offensive.” (Because why wouldn’t you name it like it is a military operation?)

The Happiness Offensive is, in fact, not that different from what we usually do in kind, just in quantity. Here’s what we brought you in May to make you feel good:

“Ann About Town” returned with a visit to Woven Art, with a column from Ann that shows you why it is my favorite series about East Lansing. Chris Wardell reported on the opening of the 10th annual East Lansing Farmer’s Market (an institution our proofreaders keep hoping will change its name to be grammatically logical – as in “farmers’ market”).

ELi’s nature reporter Aron Sousa told you about the hummingbirds coming back to East Lansing, including the story of where they are coming from. Telaina Eriksen let our readers know that the girls’ high school water polo team has qualified again for the regionals. Jessy let folks know about the rummage sale at Prime Time.

Coverage of the Art Festival and beyond:

With construction downtown plus the cancellation of the Folk Festival causing disorientation about festivals, we wanted to make sure people knew the Art Festival was on and moved a bit east. Ann Nichols arranged lots of reporting for us on the festival, including from Sarah Spohn, a report on the “Sensory” multi-sense architectural installation at the festival. Jessy told our readers about the new People’s Choice Award.

Chris Wardell brought ELi readers the news of this year’s diverse musical line-up, including Hip hop artist MikeyyAustin. In May, Chris Wardell also delivered special reports on the new album out from local avant-garde musician Jj Kidder and on Ten Pound Fiddle’s Pete Seeger tribute show.

ELHS generations connecting:

Ann Kammerer brought us more in her special series on ELHS alums’ advice to youth now graduating from East Lansing High School. These included Jonas Hallstein, Dena Goodman Smith, Karen Weil Henry, Pam Weil, Debbie Holden Petersmark, Elizabeth Beckett, and Linda and Bob McKnight.

Nonpartisan, as usual:

At ELi, we never tell you what to think or who to vote for. But we do sometimes provide a “Your ELi” column to explain our managerial decisions to you. This past month, I provided an answer to a reader’s question about why ELi doesn’t post comments, and this week I also provided context on our story about Cole Academy and how we decide what to investigate.

At the end of May, The Guardian published an op-ed by me about why I founded ELi and how ELi serves this community, and that’s been getting a ton of comments internationally. (Incidentally, I didn’t pick that headline.) I also wrote a piece especially for our readers, following up on that op-ed.

Don’t forget about our Summer Youth Journalism Program:

Know a young person aged 15-22 who might be interested in developing the skills that it takes to be a good reporter, including interviewing, researching, photographing, and reflecting on ethical issues like transparency and accountability? Send them our way.

Thank you for participating in the community news production project that is ELi!


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