Why I Report For ELi

Thursday, January 18, 2018, 8:55 am
Sarah Spohn

The first piece I ever read on ELi’s site was about a long-time East Lansing resident recollecting his memories of a fond neighborhood grocery store. It was a walk down memory lane, or in this case, Grand River, and gave me a glimpse of how a community used to look. It made me look at the same road I’d driven down countless times over my twenty-something years in the area, in a whole new light.

It made me realize, that even if you may think you know all there is to about a place (especially your home) that’s not the case. People are opening new businesses, making new art, writing influential new grants, and changing the landscapes, on a daily basis. So many things happen each day – how could one ever keep up with news, especially in a ‘small town?’

ELi has got it figured out -- Community journalism. In a world where we’ve got countless channels, commercial-free streaming, and the ability to rewind, pause, and fast-forward through an endless black hole of content, the need for honest, community-based news is prevalent.

I remember when I was first introduced to ELi’s Managing Editor Ann Nichols via social media. She had reached out to me, after I had liked ELi’s Facebook page. She ‘cyber-stalked me,’ and approached me about writing for ELi, but not until after we met in person and chatted it up. We bonded over our love for singer-songwriters from the ‘60s and classic rock from the ‘70s, and also our dislike for the term ‘hipster.’

The first story I wrote for ELi was about another grocery store – but this time, the face behind the aesthetically-pleasing signs at the local Whole Foods. A Michigander, and a local East Lansing resident, Elaine Yehl, works daily on creating Instagram-worthy lettering on signs for artisanal chocolates, and an entire grocery store’s worth of signage. This is the kind of news I love to read about, and also, write. It gives names behind the faces, and more often times, names and faces behind things you see every day, that somehow were still a mystery.

ELi is a nonprofit, which means no newsrooms with back-to-back meetings, or hectic production nights. Each reporter is writing from their own home, dorm, office, or maybe even their iPhone. We’re not in a newsroom, we’re out in our community – because community news matters. Sometimes it’s not conventional. Sometimes your meetings are in coffee shops, not well-lit studios. That’s the way hyper-local community journalism should be – for the people, written by the people, who live it. Everyday.

Chances are, you’ll find the reporter who wrote a preview piece on the Great Lakes Folk Festival at that very same festival – roaming the streets the next day. There’s no separation between the press and the community. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for the reporter who broke the news on the results of a Board of Education vote, to be in the drop-off line of a local elementary school the next day.

What we write about is our neighbors – artists, musicians, business owners, leaders, teachers, local coffee shops, family-friendly festivals, and the sights and sounds of our daily lives. We take pride in the relatively small city of East Lansing, covering stories on the big things happening every day here.

Check out this reporting by Sarah:


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