White Nationalists and a Kitten in the Vent: Rolling with What Life Sends

Friday, August 25, 2017, 7:32 am
Alice Dreger, Publisher

Let me start this update with the kitten.

Last week was supposed to be a pretty quiet week at ELi. Sure, there was a City Council meeting scheduled for Tuesday, but not much was on that agenda. With most of our regular reporters either away or dealing with family crises or both—while I’ve also been dealing with travel and extended-family issues—ELi’s Managing Editor Ann Nichols and I were relieved to look ahead on Monday morning, after publishing the answer to a reader’s question about whether the Family Aquatic Center pays for itself, and to say to each other, “We should be okay this week. It should be a pretty quiet week.”

The universe had other plans.

First, Ann found herself unexpectedly the mother of a tiny lost kitten, a little sweetheart she named Luna (see above). If you’ve ever found yourself unexpectedly becoming a parent of a very small creature who is so young that maybe it needs a bottle, you will understand that this makes your work life somewhat unpredictable. Especially when your one remaining-in-town City reporter (me) wants to come over and play with your new baby, and your mature, bouncy dog and old, skeptical cat aren’t so sure what to think of this unexpected baby taking over the house.

Then, out of the blue on Monday at midday, we found out that MSU had been offering City Council millions of dollars to back off the income tax proposal. Ann and I dropped everything (except Luna) and went to work breaking that story for you. What did that lead to, but the City Manager calling us in, for the first time ever, to ask us to share his perspective on a controversy.

So we again dropped everything except Luna and ran over to City Hall to talk to George Lahanas and reported that, too—providing a story that many people around town soon told us was really helpful to understanding the City’s financial condition. And to balance that out, since we do non-partisan work, we asked MSU to tell us their perspective on why City taxpayers should feel like they’re already getting plenty out of MSU and should not seek to tax MSU employees on their income.

All that led to several readers asking whether Council could still take the income tax proposal off the ballot for November, which led to us calling City Clerk Marie Wicks to find out for our readers. And in spite of all the big income tax news, we couldn’t just ignore the fact that Larry Sparkes had been officially named our new Police Chief and wanted to share with ELi’s readers his philosophy of police leadership.

While this was going on, Ann was also busy working with several new reporters who had answered our call for more help. This included Ann working closely with Corey Rivera on her first story, on our own local ComicCon, and with Jeanette McWaters on her first story, on the Salus Center, a new local LGBTQ resource. We were also keeping an eye on stories being developed by our eight new student reporters in ELi’s first Summer Youth Journalism Program, going on at the Library under the direction of Cody Harrell. (You’ll be seeing their inaugural work soon.)

By Wednesday morning, I was sure it must be Friday, but no. The week still had plenty in store, including news on the Trails and Park Millage, further delays in fixing our trails, and challenges to use of the millage by bicycle advocates. Wednesday also brought the rather significant news that the Park District state-level tax credit request would not be resolved this month, but would be pushed off another month—pushing off the blight demolition still further.

Oh, and then there were the white nationalists talking about coming to MSU. Oh boy. We talked and figured out what in that story was an ELi story—what might be relevant to the City and the City’s citizens, specifically—and we brought you that. Ann also worked with Sarah Spohn to get you something lighter to read about—the backstory of singer Kathleen Walters, performing at the Ann Street concert.

Somewhere in the midst of all this, Luna decided to crawl deep into a vent at Ann’s house to take a nap. Ann was unable to coax Luna out until I suggested some very smelly tuna fish. This may sound trivial, but the truth is that while lots of men support and participate in ELi, ELi is run by two women who are pretty maternal, and losing a tiny kitten in a vent while white nationalists and a major income tax dispute are going on makes the scene, um, complicated. The kitten ends up feeling metaphorical, or the white nationalists do, which is even weirder.

On Friday, no matter what was happening, I had to leave to go to the West Virginia wedding of our Calendar editors Ken Sperber and Val Thonger’s son Dan, a very joyous event, and from there go to Nashville for an eclipse viewing with my sister and her dozens of sisters….

How did we get through all of this? My answer brings us to the theme I end up with every time I write about ELi: the amazing teamwork of the people of East Lansing around ELi—around the mission of sharing local news that is accurate and nonpartisan.

Even while away from ELi proper, Government reporters Jessy Gregg and Chris Root continued to help me and Ann with the stories we were working on. East Lansing’s City staff, as always, continued to answer our never-ending stream of questions. New folks stepped up to help with reporting and financial support, long-term readers sent us feedback and questions that kept us on mission, our accountants at Layton & Richardson worked on our year-end fiscal report for the IRS, and our ever-growing network of helpers sent us leads and critically-important introductions.

It was a killer week, and that’s part of why this week has been pretty quiet by comparison. (We’ve also benefitted from not having too many crazy-big stories drop down on our heads.)

No matter what any given week hands us, each week of this work makes up the fabric that ultimately becomes ELi, and each week I am struck by how fortunate I am to live in a community that—unlike so many in America—learned well before You-Know-Who to appreciate the value of real news reported honestly.

We have a big fall coming up. We’re looking at major renovations to our elementary schools, a City Council election, an income tax ballot initiative with a property tax reduction initiative, two possible big redevelopments that are both still kind of shaky, and who knows what else.

Whatever happens, I am happy to tell you that in October I’ll be speaking about ELi for the first time at the annual conference of the Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers group in Chicago, telling folks nationally about what we are doing locally. Whether other communities can replicate what we have achieved here, I don’t know, but I want to tell them about what we’ve managed to do together.

And what I do know for sure is that I am incredibly grateful to all of you for making accurate, timely local news possible, where I live. Thank you, to Ann Nichols, to our 100+ citizen reporters, our Board, our tech managers who have been protecting us from Denial of Service attacks, and our financial supporters.

I can’t imagine life without ELi. I remain so grateful to those of you who can’t, either.


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