YOUR ELI: Survey Says...

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Friday, May 6, 2016, 7:50 am
Ann Nichols, Managing Editor, and Alice Dreger, Publisher


We received 148 responses to our reader survey which launched April 21, and the responses have been extremely useful to us as we work on improving ELi’s service to you and your neighbors. Our thanks go out to all those who took the survey.

Here’s some of what we learned and how we are responding as we work with our tech managers, Morgan Lees and Lisa Lees, to redesign some aspects of our website:

What you know about: We found that respondents knew about our coverage of East Lansing schools and government, knew about Ann About Town and our science and environment reporting, knew about our calendar of events, and knew that our reporters are made up of a mix of paid and volunteer staff.

What you don’t know: Less than half of the respondents were aware of our free weekly news digest, sent as an email once a week. We know that those who do know about it love it, because the “open” rate of the weekly email is way above industry average, so we are working on ways to let more people know about it through web redesign and social media. (You can see a sample of the free weekly mailer here, and sign up here. Every week it brings you a short summary of and link to everything we published that week, and it gives you information about what’s up in East Lansing in the coming week.)

Many respondents were not aware of the wide mix of people reporting for us, including East Lansing High School students, MSU and LCC college students, retirees, and work-from-home parents of young children. We’ll help solve this by having much clearer reporter bios when the website is redesigned this summer.

What you want: The three top things respondents wanted from us that we are not already delivering are restaurant reviews (71% wanted these), a general guide to living in East Lansing (66%), and a weekend opportunity preview (63%).

At its meeting last week, in response to the reader survey, ELi’s Board of Directors approved the idea of providing restaurant reviews of establishments in and around East Lansing. (Yes, ELi takes its mission so seriously, the Board discusses things like whether restaurant reviews are in keeping with it.) Managing Editor Ann Nichols provided a review this week of Espresso Royale Café and she’ll be bringing us more in the coming months. In keeping with ELi’s approach, the idea behind these will not be to endorse or dismiss any local restaurant, but rather to give you a feel for the place.

The general guide to living in East Lansing is something we think we are uniquely qualified to provide because our reporters have generated so much content about life here and we can organize it in a way to help everyone living in or thinking of living in East Lansing. This project excites the two of us a lot because it’s a kind of overview service ELi can provide, even as we keep providing our day-to-day service.

The weekend opportunity preview started this week in response to the survey; see our first entry from Ann. We are also shifting the weekly mailer to Fridays to be able to provide the weekend preview via the e-news digest. (Have something you think we should include in the weekend preview? Contact us via the website, via Twitter, or via Facebook.)

There are also some specific news areas folks wanted us covering more, so we are looking at turning resources, as we have them, to those. Some of you sent very specific news story ideas—many of which we think would interest a lot of readers—and we are looking to assign reporters to those.

What you see as our team’s strengths: We asked respondents, in an open-ended question, what they see as our strengths. The answers energized and touched us—they made clear you get what we’re doing, you appreciate what we’re doing, and you support what we’re doing. One reader summed it up this way: “solid writing; incisive, fearless reporting.” Another: “fresh and honest.”

As Alice wrote in her “Your ELi” column last week, “The biggest theme in the batch was summed up by one reader this way: ‘Local, local, local!’” Respondents specifically praised our investigative journalism, saying over and over again we are bringing you in-depth news you simply can’t get anywhere else. To quote one reader, “ELi provides a better, [more] detailed reporting of city government, meetings, planning decisions, and construction activities than any other local news outlet.” Said another of our strengths: “local coverage of government and school issues not being covered in other news outlets.”

People answering the survey also praised the “non-partisan, in-depth, researched reporting,” with many respondents saying they greatly appreciated what they called our “unbiased coverage” of government and schools. One reader even asked if were unbiased “perhaps to a fault?”.

The quality of the writing was a point of much praise. People also liked what one respondent called “good local color pieces mixed with ‘serious’ news.” Another said, “It’s really the one and only source of information about what is happening in East Lansing.”

What you see as ELi’s weaknesses: Some people answering the survey said that ELi has “some bias in reporting” and “a liberal bias,” although fewer people than named “objectivity” or “unbiased” as among ELi’s strengths. A more commonly stated “weakness” was actually a concern readers have, namely sustainability, which some respondents recognized as a concern about all serious news organizations today, in an era where people think news should come to them for free.

What else? In our final open-ended question, we asked if you wanted to add anything. The answers here were varied and helpful, and many made us smile rather broadly:

“The entire ELi team rocks! Thank you, all, for providing this service!”

“Thank you for doing this—it’s really fun to read.”

“I deeply value ELi and your commitment to the truth.”

“I love ELi; it is to me the very best thing that East Lansing offers.”

“I appreciate ELi giving writing and publishing opportunities to ‘alternative’ journalists like high school, college, retired and part time writers. Their perspective is important and I like the diversity.”

“A great community resource. Thank you!”

“You are fantastic and novel and unique. Keep asking for help to keep producing your amazing product, and other volunteers will come in waves of time and ability. Keep putting the request for help and money out there. You are a river.”

We love that metaphor—a river. We want to keep being a river of neighbors bringing you the water that sustains and improves your local quality of life.

And don’t worry, we’ll keep asking for help! Watch this week for our spring fundraiser, wherein we’ll be asking you to give generously to support some website improvements, ELi’s guide to living in East Lansing, and our general operations. Thank you, again. We consider this work a great privilege, and your readership and support mean the world to the ELi team.

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