YOUR ELi: An Appreciation

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Saturday, August 1, 2015, 12:09 am
Alice Dreger, Publisher

Our Managing Editor, Ann Nichols, is supposed to be off duty for a couple of days because she is doing the cooking for a friend’s wedding. (Besides being a lawyer, professional writer, and ELi’s Managing Editor, Ann is also a professional—and spectacular—cook.) This means I’ve got a rare moment where Ann isn’t paying total attention to ELi, which means it’s the perfect opportunity for me to sneak into ELi something she’d probably veto: an appreciation of Ann.

You may already appreciate Ann for her reporting at ELi—reporting that inevitably comes with a sharp eye, a warm touch, and a gentle wit. It’s that style of hers that gave me the idea of asking her to do Ann about Town, a first-person travelogue of the interesting nooks and crannies that make up East Lansing. When she proposed doing Market Monitor I was equally pleased because I correctly guessed this would lead to us being provided wonderfully humanizing backstories to the products we enjoy at the East Lansing Farmers Market.

But there’s so much about Ann’s management of ELi that you simply can’t see, because it happens behind the scenes. Ann recruits and mentors many of our reporters, particularly the crew of young women she has assembled. (She has tried to recruit young men, but they’ve turned out to be on average less reliable.) She solicits, organizes, edits, and posts a huge proportion of our content, and also handles a lot of the questions and concerns people bring to ELi. She handles our social media accounts.

Ann is really in charge of the whole public image of ELi, and under her management—thanks to her management—ELi has come to be much more widely known as a reliably accurate, non-partisan, genuinely informative local news source providing a critical resource to this community.

Ann also has the unenviably job of managing me. That’s because in addition to being the board president of ELi and its publisher, I’m the primary government reporter and Government editor for ELi. (I do hope someday that changes! Let us know if you want to join me and Chris Root on the government reporting team!) Government is easily the most tricky thing we report, and as a consequence Ann and I end up spending a lot of time discussing what we should report about government, campaigns, and elections, and how.

As an example, we spent a huge amount of time going back and forth on the question of whether we should report the Bailey community’s suspicions following the split vote to close of the Bailey daycare. Numerous readers in Bailey were asking us to report what they had found in terms of previously undisclosed relationships and communications. We could not find anything in what they had found that indicated anything against ethics rules or against the law—so should we report it?

In the end we decided we should, because the suspicions were so consuming the neighborhood’s attitude towards discussions about the future of the Bailey Community Center that it seemed worth explaining that as a critical backstory to public discussions. But there have been stories we’ve opted not to report, out of concern that they either are or will be perceived as favoring or disfavoring one person or another on Council. Ann has sometimes had to put her foot down and tell me she feels we lack adequate justification for a particular story. Because she has such good sense, I listen to her. (As my husband Aron Sousa, one of our nature reporters, sometimes reminds me, “You didn’t ask the Board to hire Ann because she would agree with you. You wanted her because you knew she would sometimes disagree with you, and that would make you think harder.”)

The best thing about working with Ann, though, is how she makes me laugh when I’m dealing with some difficult story. When I was recently reporting with Chris Root from the dramatic last Downtown Development Authority (DDA) meeting, I emailed Ann a fast summary of what was going on, leading with, “here’s the meat for you to see for now.” Only I accidentally wrote, “here’s he meat.” She wrote back, “You promised me ‘he meat.’ I feel cheated.” I had to stop myself from busting out laughing in the middle of the meeting.

Having a sense of humor in this job is critical, but equally critical, I think, is Ann's Buddhist approach to life. She tries hard to act not in service of her self, but in the service of others, always with a sense of humility and compassion. So often she helps us reporters think about how others might perceive what we are writing, and how we can do better to achieve our best. Sometimes people around town beat up on her because they're upset about something they've read at ELi, and I know that because she is such a sympathetic person, she takes that hard sometimes. I find myself reminding her that it is that "weakness" that is actually a true strength she brings to ELi.

Ann doesn’t get paid nearly enough for what she does for ELi. Like everyone who works for ELi, volunteer (like me) and underpaid, she does it because she loves this town and loves what ELi does for it. But I am hoping that in the next few months we can gear up to get some grants and sponsorships, and that more of you will donate, in part so we can pay Ann something closer to what she deserves for the crazy hours she puts into this work. That would make me almost as happy as working with Ann does.


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