What ELi Did This Month

Wednesday, January 31, 2018, 4:26 pm
Ann Nichols, Managing Editor

ELi exists to do public service, so we seek to be transparent with you, our readers, and to always obtain your feedback on how we could do a better job. As part of that, we’re starting new monthly features to tell you what we’ve done in the last month and to explain approximately what it cost. Today I bring you what we did.

This was a big reporting month for ELi. As always, as ELi’s Managing Editor I worked this month to bring you a combination of the “hard” news we thought you’d want to know and “softer” news of arts and entertainment opportunities we thought you might enjoy. We brought you 54 reports, including a few fundraising appeals. I give you the details below.

Later this week, Alice will finish crunching the numbers to tell you what it cost, but I can tell you now that in the last fiscal year we operated on about $51,000 and that this year (2018), to meet expenses we need at least $80,000 and more like $100,000. That’s why we’re running a Sustainability Campaign that officially ends today. We are now up to $65,304 in that campaign, with $1,734 left in the New Donor Match. (Update: here's the January 2018 expense report.)

What ELi covered this month in harder news:

In terms of the more serious news side, our lead Schools reporter Karessa Wheeler brought news from School Board of a major change in the high school science curriculum, students’ arguing for a later school start time, and the Board’s support of the #MeToo movement.

ELi youth reporter Kepler Domurat-Sousa followed up his original “sheds proliferation” report—a break-out story of much interest to our readers—with a new investigative report looking at whether the sheds ordinance was used in political retaliation involving the income tax controversy. (Spoiler alert: looks like it wasn’t.)

ELi is blessed with an amazing team of three women who steadily report on local government for us: Jessy Gregg, Chris Root, and our Publisher, Alice Dreger. This month, Chris reported out from the public-input meetings at Hannah Community Center, and followed-up with a report on additional discussions of how to slash the budget. Jessy followed-up on that with a report from Council about five new tax proposals being considered for the ballot.

Chris Root also provided a comprehensive report on complaints made against ELPD officers in 2017 as reported by Chief Larry Sparkes to the Human Relations Commission. Jessy reported on Sparkes and ELFD Chief Randy Talifarro’s warnings about emergency services in East Lansing reaching a “tipping point” and reported on an armed robbery at an East Lansing Subway store.

Jessy also provided reports on: a 3-2 vote in Council to restrict rental housing in the Hawthorn Neighborhood, and reasons behind that; what to expect from this year’s Art Festival given construction downtown; what’s coming in terms of plans for the now fenced-in “Park District” properties on the key corner downtown; struggles at the Parks & Rec Advisory Commission over budget problems; improvements to the City’s northern trails thanks to more money coming from the County; and plans for a new concept fountain in Valley Court Park.

I also pitched in on City reporting this month, bringing the news that City Council kicked the marijuana provisioning center question back to Planning Commission and that white nationalist Richard Spencer will be coming in March to speak at MSU. We don’t ordinarily cover MSU news, but we thought it important to get you ELPD’s perspective on the upcoming event.

As City Council began this past week to pick up the issue of what the crimes of Larry Nassar mean to the people of East Lansing, and MSU’s President resigned, we looked at the history of the town-gown connection and asked City Council members for statements. Alice also reported on the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem’s call for more sweeping resignations at MSU.

After a lot of digging, Alice gave us a number of investigative reports, including showing: that about $700,000 in local taxes have been earmarked to pay the Center City District developer’s attorneys, financial advisors, and father; that the City settled a federal fraud/whistleblower lawsuit involving the City Attorney; that the City Council didn’t record its vote to settle that lawsuit (until ELi reported the story); that the City is refusing to provide, under the Freedom of Information Act, governmental communications related to the follow-up of the lawsuit.

Alice also reported the biggest-reach story of the month, ELHS freshman Alex Hosey’s call to the School District and Mayor to account for the history of racist housing discrimination in East Lansing. Chris Root followed up on this thread with a report from the Brookfield neighborhood about their attempts to deal with racist language in old deed covenants in that area.

Um, Alice also reported this month, briefly, on water main breaks, because she can’t stand not using a good photo submitted by a reader.

More news plus new features:

This month, Rosalind Arch reported on the shift in the office of City Clerk, from Marie Wicks to Jennifer Schuster. Roz also took over production of our weekly newsletter, taking that job off Alice’s plate. Roz is now working on a redesign of the newsletter for us to make it more reader-friendly. We added a way for readers to submit local photos to share in the weekly newsletter, and also switched our real-time mailer to a daily mailer to better serve our readers’ needs.

And not to forget our calendar and tech teams:

ELi's calendar editing team of Ken Sperber and Val Thonger kept the ELi community calendar up to date, and tech team Lisa Lees and Morgan Lees again took necessary steps to keep our website secure from constant bot attacks and reliable while also helping us with changes we management folks request.

Arts & entertainment a-plenty:

On the arts and entertainment beat, Emma McIlhagga brought us the news of the ballet Hannah and Gretchen being performed locally, and just today Sarah Spohn reported on the upcoming “Seven Colours" show at east arbor architecture + gallery in downtown East Lansing.

Christopher Wardell really hit it out of the park for us this month on local arts reporting, bringing the stories of the Pump House Concert Series, Josh Davis’s “finding his way back home” to the Ten Pound Fiddle, and this coming weekend’s Winter Sing Festival.

Responding to readers’ questions:

We provided two “Ask ELi” columns this month, including one on why the mayor of East Lansing is elected by Council and not directly by voters and why some East Lansing residents pay to join the Capital Area District Library system. Numerous other reader questions turned into investigations we worked on. (Keep those questions coming!) We also surveyed readers on what they want from us and provided you the raw data and our analysis.

Why do people do this work for so little money:

As this was also the big month for our 2018 Sustainability Campaign, we asked our reporters if they wanted to explain to readers why they report for ELi, with the thought this might encourage more readers to become financial supporters. Seven of our reporters provided first-person perspectives on ELi’s role in their lives and the community, including Evan Dempsey, Paige Filice, Jessy Gregg, Ann Kammerer, Ken Sperber, Sarah Spohn, and Christopher Wardell.

Alice kicked off that series explaining why having our scoop used by the Lansing State Journal with no credit to us is something we see as a sign of our success in our mission. We have since learned, in consultation with our colleagues at the Institute for Nonprofit News, that ripping-off scoops without credit is standard at U.S.A. Today/Gannett papers, which the LSJ is, so we don’t think we’re being treated specially in that regard. We guess we’re just treated like a normal kick-ass independent news organization.

What ELi achieved this month nationally, to help out locally:

This month ELi’s national connections became more visible, as ELi was admitted to the Institute for Nonprofit News and I was interviewed by Poyntner about ELi’s work for this community. I also talked with the Amplify project, aimed at improving the reach of Midwestern news organization like ours, about the ongoing question of how Facebook will be handling distribution of our news. (Some good news for us there.)

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