EAST LANSING, Mich. — Three months after local media outlet East Lansing Info halted operations, they're gearing up to restart publication with some new ideas for funding and personnel.
East Lansing Info is a nonprofit media outlet focusing on local news in the city of East Lansing. It was founded by Alice Dreger in September 2014.
“I had been running it for a really long time, and I needed a break," Dreger said. "So we all came to an agreement that I would take a break starting in February.”
With Dreger on a break, the team hit a wall in March with several key personnel taking on other jobs leading the media outlet to pause operations in May.
“Local news is a stressful, difficult industry," Dreger said. "So we kind of had to regroup.”
ELi's Board of Directors appointed a task force in June to decide what needed to be accomplished in order to relaunch operations.
“Basically what we did was we tried to figure out what the history of ELi was, and where we ran into challenges," Dreger said. "Not surprisingly, a big place we run into challenges is both personnel and money.”
According to the task force report, the bare minimum annual budget needed to run a successful news operation for ELi is $141,000. Right now, ELi has about $43,000 saved with about $2,100 in monthly donor commitments remaining.
Dreger said most of their budget is spent on people.
“About 86 to 90 percent, of any given year is spent on personnel costs," Dreger said. "That's because we don't have a central office, we don't spend a lot on extras. So we're spending it on people.”
Right now, it's hard to find people to fill those empty positions, so Dreger said they're working to encourage and remind people that what they do is important.
“We're encouraging our supporters to consider, as we always have, becoming reporters themselves," Dreger said. "Come report with us on Parks and Rec, report with us on the Arts Commission, report with us about local, cultural activities. When we get people involved doing that, that allows us to have folks who sometimes volunteer their work and get really excited about it because they feel like they're doing something for the community, they're helping the local news problem."
During their break, Dreger said some donors have pulled out, and she understands why, but that left the task force looking for other options on how to raise more funds.
“We're developing a membership model, which will basically allow people to become insider members of ELi and get the news a little bit earlier than other folks,” Dreger said.
The subscription service will be $10 a month or $100 a year, and give people access to East Lansing news first.
“You get the news right away, otherwise, you wait a day or two, and it goes to the main website of Eli," Dreger said. "So we're hoping that this kind of model helps.”
Dreger said they're also working on ideas to get more community engagement with fund raising opportunities.
“We're hoping to do a bunch of fun events, perhaps a 5k race, maybe scavenger hunt," Dreger said. "So we're hoping to get more folks involved in the fund raising side of things for us.”
After having this gap in publication, Dreger said she's excited to get back to the important stories in East Lansing.
“I'm excited about getting back to it all, and having the group come back together and do great work for the community," Dreger said. "I'm also a little scared, because I've been doing this for eight years, and it's really hard. So there's always a part of me that wonders, can we get it done. But we've already had fantastic people contact us about new positions and so I am super excited.”
Dreger said they plan to start publishing articles again in early September.
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