By Alice Dreger (Publisher) and Raymond Vlasin (Board President)
We ask three minutes of your time so we can, as ELi’s Publisher/Executive Director and Board President, explain some things we believe are critical to the context of life in East Lansing.
All around the country, local news organizations are collapsing. That’s not because people don’t need local news services to watchdog, investigate, inform, and share critical information. It’s because, today, advertising doesn’t cover the cost of serious news reporting as it did in the days of paper, and most people limit their news consumption to what is ostensibly “free.”
Yet local news matters, and the loss of local news harms. In Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy, Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan noted, “When local news fails, the foundations of democracy weaken. The public, which depends on accurate, factual information in order to make good decisions, suffers.”
Academic researchers have backed this with data.
Where local media coverage has dropped, voters are less informed and vote less, “removing the incentives of local politicians to work hard on behalf of their constituencies.”
That quotation is from a study published in 2020 that showed this: “Following a newspaper closure, municipal borrowing costs increase by 5-11 basis points, costing the municipality an additional $650,000 per [bond] issue.” Why? “Local newspapers hold their governments accountable, keeping municipal borrowing costs low and ultimately saving local taxpayers money.”
When a small group of citizens founded East Lansing Info (ELi) in 2014, they did so because they believed that East Lansing deserved an independent news group to serve the people here with factual, accurate, nonpartisan, timely journalism. At ELi, we believe that, just like every community needs food pantries, domestic violence shelters, public defenders, and emergency responders, every community needs a local branch of the Fourth Estate.
For over eight years, ELi has engaged in serious investigative reporting, looking into public finances, environmental travesties, no-bid contracts, big development and big municipal bonds, elections and political appointments, crime and policing, local schools and so much more. We have worked hard to maintain the highest standards of fairness, accuracy, sourcing, and communication. We have remained responsive and responsible to the people here.
We know it has made a difference. Not only have we heard this from vulnerable individuals we have helped with our reporting, we’ve also seen the effects in terms of elected officials insisting on greater transparency, citizens showing up at meetings to speak out in informed ways using our work, and readers asking us to deploy ELi’s resources on issues they believe matter.
Because the founders of ELi understood the tenuous economic basis for local news reporting in the current age, ELi was set up on a radical new model: We are nonprofit, relying on reader support, using the substantial skills of people in our own community.
Our reporters include people with degrees in journalism. But we also set out from the start to include among our reporters people with Masters’ degrees and PhDs in, for example, economics and history, RNs, JDs, and trained high school students – people willing to work as volunteers or for relatively low pay because they are passionate about this mission.
With no office and a highly motivated, well-run team of part-timers, we have kept operating expenses ultra-low. We run the entire operation on less than $200,000 per year, and 85-90% of expenditures goes to paying our workers. Our model is so successful, Sullivan featured ELi in Ghosting the News, and we have been tapped by folks around the U.S. and Canada for help starting and running their own versions of ELi.
But our basis remains fragile, more fragile than most people realize. We saw that when we lost key staff to other (less stressful, better paying) jobs early this year, when we had to pause reporting and regroup.
We did come back; we used those great intellectual resources to which we have access to convene a Task Force, study the problem, and come back with a clearer sense of how to serve. (See the Task Force report here.) We hired great new people, and we are fortunate that the people who “get it” have been giving to keep it going.
Today, ELi has about $50,000 in savings. We estimate we need $175,000 for operations in 2023 (see the budget here) and we have raised about $40,000 in commitments and donations so far in this annual campaign.
Now, we are asking for your help to keep us going in the next year. Here are the ways you can help:
- Donate. Through Dec. 31, we have matching funds from NewsMatch and local supporters to double your tax-deductible support.
- Share with others why you read and care about ELi. Do this at your local religious organization or social club. Do it on social media and with your neighbors. Say in your own words why this service matters to you. (We are also happy to speak about ELi wherever invited.)
- Report with us. We need more reporters who are good listeners and writers and who are committed to our mission of nonpartisan local news. We will train and support you.
- Stay connected. If you haven’t already, subscribe today to our emailed newsletter so that we can keep you informed without having Facebook and Twitter filter us out of your view.
We are so grateful that this community recognizes the value of what we’ve been bringing. We want to keep it coming. To do that, we need the help of everyone who gets why this is important.
Thank you for your help.