Your ELi: Pushing for Transparency

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Friday, October 12, 2018, 4:25 pm
Alice Dreger, Publisher

Above: Stickers handed out by Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press at the Chicago meeting.

What a moment of irony.

I’m writing you from Chicago, where I’m at the annual meeting of LION Publishers. LION stands for Local Independent Online News – what we do. Well, this morning, I had to suddenly stop listening to experts talk about journalists pushing for transparency in order to step out to provide emergency coverage of this morning’s surprise City Council meetings – meetings that were effectively unannounced.

The only way we even discovered this was that I was giving a final check on the staff’s preparation of our weekly mailer, and hopped onto the City’s website to check for upcoming meetings to add to the mailer calendar.

There, suddenly, was the notice of two extraordinary City Council meetings we had just missed. What the heck?

Since then, Managing Editor Ann Nichols and I have been flooded with reader texts, emails, and direct messages, all of which come down to one theme: “I can’t believe this.”

Honestly, we can’t believe it either.

We try really hard at East Lansing Info to make sure you know what’s going on in your government. It’s fair to say that is the top reason we exist.

But over and over again, we’ve been stymied by the current City leadership in our attempts to keep you informed. Meetings happen without real public notice, and we miss them. Documents that are supposed to be provided to anyone who asks on request are denied to us. Our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests are subject to unnecessary delays and charges. A major legal settlement between the City and the Department of Justice happens without any record.

Unfortunately, East Lansing isn’t special. What I’m hearing at this conference is this:

All over the country, citizens are being denied access to documents and meetings that they have the right to attend. Games are being played – like the use external consultants to hide data that is supposed to be public, or in some cities like ours, the fact that the city attorney is an external hire being used to claim certain documents “aren’t in the City’s possession” (because they’re at the city attorney’s office, just down the street).

It isn’t easy to do local news right now. Even beyond government gamesmanship, economically it’s really difficult. There isn’t enough funding in advertising to keep any news local organization alive. Many readers don’t want to pay for subscriptions. Our model – nonprofit, nonpartisan, reader supported – is emerging as the one that can survive in this climate.

That said, even we struggle with survival. We need help to get through every year, and we wonder every year if we will keep going.

So . . . listen, I wasn’t going to share this with everybody yet – just with ELi’s existing major donors – but I’m going to go ahead and tell you now:

We have been accepted to the national NewsMatch campaign for November-December 2018. Bottom line of what this means: We have a shot at $25,000 in matching funds from groups like the MacArthur Foundation and the Knight Foundation. A really good shot.

That’s fantastic.

But even if we raise the full match amount, $50,000 won’t be enough to get us through 2018. Right now, based on current expenses, we’re going to need more like $100,000 next year to keep doing this work.

That’s why I’m asking people who in the past have been able and willing to do so to help us out by pledging significant funds ($250/year and up) to help raise our campaign match cap. If you’re one of those people who can do commit $250 or more, do NOT donate right now! Read this to understand what we do need right now. Then email me at to let me know what you can commit to help us boost our campaign match cap.

Thank you for getting why what we do matters to our community. On days like today, your readership and your support really give us the energy we need.


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