As our Managing Editor Ann Graham Nichols and I talked about the best way to work within the Patreon patronage system, we realized it could be a great way to give our core supporters, like you, a little more of an “inside look” at what we deal with at ELi.
So once a month, either Ann or I will be sending out a note via this system just to let you in on some inner workings or to share with you some of the pondering we end up doing as we provide this unusual public service.
Here’s our first installment, about being embedded in climate change.
As you may know if you’ve been a long-time ELi reader, my husband, Aron Sousa, sometimes writes by night as a volunteer nature, gardening, and astronomy reporter for ELi. By day he’s a physician and educational administrator at MSU’s College of Human Medicine. What you may not know is that Aron is obsessed
Not only is the solarium off our East Lansing bedroom full of coast redwoods and dawn redwoods—some bonsaied, some full size—Aron has gone and planted a giant sequoia in our backyard. He’s super happy it has doubled its height since he planted it early this summer, going from about two feet to over four.
Aron planted this tree partly because he loves redwoods, but also because he knows climate change is real. He’s worried about climate change, but he also has a “make lemonade” attitude about life. So why not take advantage of warming trends to plant a giant sequoia?
Every time I walk past that little tree on the way to my backyard writing cottage, where I do ELi-related work, I think about ELi.
You see, the internet’s rise over the last twenty years has caused the traditional economy for news reporting to fall through the floor. The American press is experiencing massive climate change, and the result of this will pretty clearly turn out to be mass extinction. We’re already seeing this at the national level as newsrooms shrink and lay off reporters. We also see it at the local level; just this week, another Lansing State Journal reporter who worked for years on East Lansing stories was laid off by Gannett, the owner of the LSJ and U.S.A. Today.
We don’t really have the option of hoping the climate will change back for news. Pretending it will leads to news deserts and ultimately news starvation. And that leads to people not having any idea what’s going on around them even as they have to live impacted by local government, local schools, local economic issues, local environmental problems, and more.
So ELi is kind of like Aron’s giant sequoia. It’s not very big—although it has been steadily growing and producing new growth! Whether it can survive in this climate remains to be seen.
Does it even make sense to have embedded it here?
This past weekend, when all hell broke loose in our near-university neighborhood due to the big game, I felt as I often do: that we have to try to keep ELi alive and growing and producing. As you will know if you read our piece this week on my interaction with our police chief on the issue of alcohol-fueled parties and sexual assault in East Lansing, there’s a lot going on around here that people who aren’t in the midst of it simply don’t know about. We need to have embedded reporting if we’re going to have news that matters to our everyday lives.
Embedded, online, citizen journalism: that’s the model we’re using at ELi, and it’s specifically a model that was created as a reaction to the massive climate change in news reporting. It isn’t always easy—we have trouble finding enough reporters, and we have to train people to meet the standards you expect as an ELi reader—but it’s what we’ve got that’s alive and growing right now.
By the way, in case you’re wondering what Aron’s going to do about his little tree if we have a sudden cold snap sometime, I asked him that question. His answer? “Skin-to-bark contact!” That made me laugh out loud. But again, it’s a good metaphor for what you’re doing for us with ELi: Skin-to-bark contact, in the form of steady, monthly support.
Alice Dreger, Publisher