NEW: MFP Team Members Have Won 27 Awards for 2020 Work; Pittman is ‘Journalist of the Year’ for 7 States

Ashton Pittman - Aliyah Veal - Mauricio
Ashton Pittman, Aliyah Veal and Mauricio J. Quijano were among the first place winners in the Diamond Journalism Awards.

Editor’s note: Scroll further down for a full list and links to all of MFP’s award-winning stories, collections and infographics.

The Mississippi Free Press, in its first year of publication, won 15 separate awards in the Diamond Journalism Awards, a Society of Professional Journalists contest that spans print, online-only, daily, broadcast and magazine news outlets in six states bordering Arkansas. A week later, the Green Eyeshade Awards, another SPJ competition spanning 11 southeastern states, announced that two MFP journalists had won three more awards between them. In addition, two MFP staff members won eight awards for their 2020 work for another publication in 2020 in the same contests. MFP was also honored as a finalist in a national journalism contest, bringing the total awards for all current members to 27 awards for work in 2020.

Highlights of the Diamond Awards include three contest-wide, first-place finishes for MFP in categories where any media outlet, regardless of size or medium, was eligible to win.

The Robert S. McCord Freedom of Information Award went to Ashton Pittman, Donna Ladd and Christian Middleton for their multi-part University of Mississippi Emails series. Judges wrote: “A truly amazing series of reports. There were so many back-stories that at times it was hard to know the players. Yet, in the end, it all fit together. The public had a right to know what was going on at the University of Mississippi and the Mississippi Free Press delivered. Nicely done.”

The MFP team was also recognized with the Public Service Award for the Mississippi Trusted Elections Project, “an extraordinary series of stories documenting efforts by Mississippi officials to change polling locations of thousands of voters with very little communication,” judges wrote. The American Press Institute provided support for the elections project.


Ashton Pittman was named Diamond Journalist of the Year, with judges saying: “This is an amazing writer who knows how to get to the heart of a story and make it mean something to the reader. It doesn’t seem to matter what the topic is. Ashton tackles it with a keen eye for detail and dedication to holding those accountable when needed. Great work!”

In all, Pittman won five additional First Place Diamond awards in Online Breaking News, Online Ongoing Coverage, Online Investigative Reporting, Online Features and Print/Online Politics Coverage. Ashton’s husband, William Pittman, shared the MFP’s Public Service Award and won Third Place in Data Visualization.

Culture Reporter Aliyah Veal won two First Place Diamond awards, in Print/Online Arts & Culture Writing and Print/Online Health, Science & Environment Writing, and a Third Place award in Print/Online Business Writing. Judges wrote about her work: “Aliyah Veal is a strong writer who can tell a powerful story about Black Mississippi culture that often flies under the media radar. Really loved her exhaustive story about the Blues Trail and the people keeping it alive today.”

Mauricio J. Quijano won First Place for Print/Online Community Journalism for his bilingual reporting on mostly undocumented Latino immigrants navigating COVID-19 in Mississippi. Judges wrote about Mauricio’s work: “An important and well reported series of stories about people that we don’t hear enough about – especially during the pandemic.”

Christian Middleton and Donna Ladd won Third Place for Online Explanatory Reporting for “The past isn’t dead: A fight over a statue and a cemetery” and Second Place in Print/Online Education Reporting for “Ole Miss vs. New Miss.

John McGee and Jarius Smith shared in the Public Service Award with Ashton and William Pittman as do the full Trusted Elections team: Taylor Hathorn, Aliyah Veal, Julian Mills, Jamar Muhammad and Donna Ladd.

See the full press release for details and additional judges’ comments.

A week after the Diamond announcement, the team added three more Green Eyeshade Awards for work in 2020. Aliyah Veal won First Place for Business Reporting/Online for her “Building Business, Wealth and Food Security During COVID-19” series of stories. In this contest, Ashton Pittman took Third Place in Politics Reporting/Online for his “Money, Voting and Politics in Mississippi” reporting and Third Place in Investigative Reporting for his University of Mississippi email series, which has won multiple awards to date.

Earlier this year, Ashton Pittman and Donna Ladd were finalists for the prestigious Ancil Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism for the “The Fabric Is Torn in Oxford’: UM Emails Investigation” series. The MFP received recognition alongside finalists Associated Press and The Washington Post. The award went to a collaboration between ProPublica and the Anchorage Daily news. Listen to Ashton and Donna talk about the UM emails series during the awards ceremony here at 40:00.

In addition, current Mississippi Free Press state reporter Nick Judin and editor Donna Ladd won a combined eight awards for their work in the Jackson Free Press in 2020. Nick moved to the MFP, a new nonprofit statewide newsroom, in January 2021, and Donna left her previous position at the Jackson Free Press and became the full-time MFP editor earlier this year.

SPJ Diamond Awards

Here is a full list and links to all MFP stories and collections winning Diamond awards for 2020 work:

1st Place, Robert S. McCord Freedom of Information Award: Ashton Pittman, Donna Ladd and Christian Middleton

Bringing Racist, Sexist UM Emails, Climate Report to Public view (collection link)

JUDGES’ COMMENTS: A truly amazing series of reports. There were so many back-stories that at times it was hard to know the players. Yet, in the end, it all fit together. The public had a right to know what was going on at the University of Mississippi and the Mississippi Free Press delivered. Nicely done.

1st Place, Public Service: Ashton Pittman, William Pittman, John McGee, Jarius Smith, Aliyah Veal, Taylor Hathorn, Jamar Muhammad, Julian Mills, Allie Jordan, Donna Ladd

Mississippi Trusted Elections Project: Stories + Infographics

JUDGES’ COMMENTS: An extraordinary series of stories documenting efforts by Mississippi officials to change polling locations of thousands of voters with very little communication. Only when confronted by the truth from the newspaper’s reporters did state officials make any effort to correct problems. This is a great public service. Kudos to the team that obviously worked tirelessly to help guarantee the right to vote!

1st Place, Diamond Journalist of the Year: Ashton Pittman

See Ashton’s MFP reporting archive here

JUDGES’ COMMENTS: This is an amazing writer who knows how to get to the heart of a story and make it mean something to the reader. It doesn’t seem to matter that the topic is. Ashton tackles it with a keen eye for detail and dedication to holding those accountable when needed. Great work!

1st Place, Health, Science & Environment Writing, Print/Online: Aliyah Veal

Grocery Shopping While Black: Fighting Food Insecurity In Mississippi During COVID-19
Feeding Local: Mississippi CSAs, Farms Beacons Of Light During COVID-19 Pandemic
‘Food Defines Us’: Utica Arts Organization Mobilizes To Solve Food Insecurity In Community
Mississippi Is Hungry: Fertile Ground Documentary Explores Food Access In CapitaCity
Gleaning, Saving Expired Food From Homes And Farms Can Feed Mississippi’s Hungry

JUDGES’ COMMENTS: This series of series of stories skillfully outlines a problem affecting Mississippi and many other areas of the country. The key is offering solutions that can be implemented. After all, what is more important to health than the right type of food. Well done!

1st Place, Breaking News/Online: Ashton Pittman

“Confusion, Two-Hour Waits After 2,000 Black, Hispanic Voters Relocated In Ridgeland”
UM Appoints Acting Ombuds As Weary Faculty See Effort To ‘Stamp Out’ Anti-Racism Voices
Mississippi Nursing Home Employee Positive for COVID-19

JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Strong deadline writing from the Mississippi Free Press makes it the clear winner in this category.

1st Place, Ongoing Coverage, Online: Ashton Pittman

‘You White People Don’t Get It’: Mississippi’s Long, Ugly Road To Changing Its State Flag
‘I Looked Like a Villain’: Why a Mississippi Flag Defender Changed His Mind
‘A Glorious Day’: Mississippi Lawmakers Approve Bill Changing State Flag
‘Today, I Hear Their Hurt’: Mississippi Governor Signs Bill to Change State Flag
Mississippi Votes to Adopt New State Flag, Affirmatively Shedding Confederate Symbol

JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Solid reporting and writing on the long and complex journey to change the Mississippi state flag. Good historical perspective in the first few segments detailing the outright venom against those who wanted things to change. Additional stories detailed how times changed and the state wanted to move on. Fair, balanced and important. Nice work.

1st Place, Investigative Reporting, Online: Ashton Pittman

“The Fabric Is Torn in Oxford’: UM Emails Investigation”
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: These stories present a troubling pattern at a major institution.

1st Place, Features, Online: Ashton Pittman

“‘Good Trouble’ in a White-flight Suburb”

1st Place, Arts & Culture Writing, Print/Online: Aliyah Veal

“Operation Road Trip: The Sad, Uplifting and Cathartic Mississippi Blues Trail”
‘Come Hell Or High Water’: Black Resilience And Inheritance In Turkey Creek
‘Black Boy Saved My Life’: Writers Explore Richard Wright’s Influence On Memoir’s 75th Anniversary

JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Aliyah Veal is a strong writer who can tell a powerful story about black Mississippi culture that often flies under the media radar. Really loved her exhaustive story about the Blues Trail and the people keeping it alive today.

1st Place, Community Journalism, Print/Online: Mauricio J. Quijano

From Mississippi ICE Raid To COVID-19: Immigrant Family Goes Through Hell To Earn A Living In Poultry Plants
Honduran Mother Seeks Medical Help For Son In Mississippi Amid Legal Limbo
‘La Valdez’ Essential For Immigrants As COVID-19 Spreads
Mississippi’s Undocumented Face COVID-19 Challenges

JUDGES’ COMMENTS: An important and well-reported series of stories about people that we don’t hear enough about – especially during the pandemic.

1st Place, Politics, Print/Online: Ashton Pittman

Governor’s ‘Restart Mississippi’ Appointees Gave Big Money To His Campaigns
Mississippi Rep ‘Sorry’ for Call to ‘Succeed From the Union’ After Talk With House Speaker
Nursing Home PAC Spent Big Lobbying Mississippi Officials, Giving To Campaigns

JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Well-researched and well-written series of stories, which outline the problem of PACs and suggest ways to possibly solve them.

2nd Place, Education Reporting, Print/Online: Christian Middleton and Donna Ladd

The Past Isn’t Dead: UM’s Winding Road To A Fight Over A Statue And A Cemetery
‘Ole Miss’ Vs. ‘New Miss’: Black Students, Faculty On How To Reject Racism, Step Forward Together
‘Recycled McCarthyism’: Auditor, UM Target Tenured Racism Scholar For ‘Strike,’ Activism
UM Closely Guards Climate Survey Providing Window Into Social Issues, Sexual Violence
UM Fires History Professor Who Criticizes ‘Powerful, Racist Donors’ And ‘Carceral State’

3rd Place, Explanatory Reporting, Online: Christian Middleton and Donna Ladd

The Past Isn’t Dead: UM’s Winding Road to a Fight Over a Statue and a Cemetery
‘Southern Soil Was Invaded’: UM Rebel Statue, Dedicated To White Supremacy, Moving Across Campus
UM ‘Cemetery Committee’ Operated Quietly, But Now Private Renovation Funds Paused
One Grove To The Next? Why UM’s Confederate Controversy May Not Be Over
UM Football Team, Young Activists Protest Police Brutality, Racism 65 Years After Emmett Till’s Murder

3rd Place, Business Writing, Print/Online: Aliyah Veal

Grocery Shopping While Black: Fighting Food Insecurity In Mississippi During COVID-19
Feeding Local: Mississippi CSAs, Farms Beacons Of Light During COVID-19 Pandemic
To Thrive Again In West Jackson: Social Entrepreneurs Helping Black Families Build Intergenerational Wealth
From Alpacas To Cocktails, Mississippi Agritourism Popular For Outdoor Entertainment

3rd Place, Data Visualization: William Pittman

Relocated Polling Places Map
ACCOMPANYING STORY

Madison County Voting Precincts
ACCOMPANYING STORY

Mississippi’s Confederate Memorials

JUDGES’ COMMENTS: This chronicles voting places and relocations, active voters, absentee voter ballots requested, sent and caste. One graphic shows locations of Confederate memorials in the state with no explanation of relevance to voting — unless I missed it.

 

SPJ Green Eyeshade Awards

Here is a full list and links to all MFP stories and collections winning Green Eyeshade awards for 2020 work:

1st Place, Business Reporting, Online: Aliyah Veal

Grocery Shopping While Black: Fighting Food Insecurity In Mississippi During COVID-19
Feeding Local: Mississippi CSAs, Farms Beacons Of Light During COVID-19 Pandemic
To Thrive Again In West Jackson: Social Entrepreneurs Helping Black Families Build Intergenerational Wealth
From Alpacas To Cocktails, Mississippi Agritourism Popular For Outdoor Entertainment
HBCUs Partner To Launch Economic Development Initiative For The Mississippi Delta

3rd Place, Investigative Reporting, Online: Ashton Pittman

“The Fabric Is Torn in Oxford’: UM Emails Investigation”

3rd Place, Political Reporting, Online: Ashton Pittman

Governor’s ‘Restart Mississippi’ Appointees Gave Big Money To His Campaigns
Nursing Home PAC Spent Big Lobbying Mississippi Officials, Giving To Campaigns
Madison County Moves 2,000 Black, Hispanic Voters To Crowded Precinct With Little Warning
Confusion, Two-Hour Waits After 2,000 Black, Hispanic Voters Relocated In Ridgeland
Mississippi Officials Moved Three Times More Polling Places Than Reported for 65,000 Voters
Mississippi Officials May Ask Voters to Remove Masks for Photo ID Check; Face Coverings Not Required at Polls
Bipartisan Bill Would Allow All Mississippians to Vote In-Person Absentee Starting Oct. 5
‘You White People Don’t Get It’: Mississippi’s Long, Ugly Road To Changing Its State Flag
‘I Looked Like a Villain’: Why a Mississippi Flag Defender Changed His Mind
Mississippi Rep ‘Sorry’ for Call to ‘Succeed From the Union’ After Talk With House Speaker by Ashton Pittman

Ancil Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism

Finalist: Ashton Pittman and Donna Ladd

“The Fabric Is Torn in Oxford’: UM Emails Investigation”

Awards to MFP Staffers for JFP Work in 2020

SPJ Green Eyeshade Awards:
1st Place, Public Service in Non-Daily Journalism: Nick Judin, “Reporting for Safety in Pandemic Mississippi”
1st Place, Politics Reporting, Non-dailies: Nick Judin, “And the Politics Play On” (Collection)
1st Place, Disaster Coverage, Non-dailies: Nick Judin, “Science and Safety of Coronavirus in Mississippi”
1st Place, Feature Writing, Non-dailies: Nick Judin, “The Faces of Coronavirus in Mississippi”
1st Place, Serious Commentary, Non-dailies: Donna Ladd, “Editor’s Notes from COVID Safety to Cruel Ancestors”

SPJ Diamond Awards:
1st Place, Commentary, Print/Online: Donna Ladd, “Righting racism during COVID-19”

JUDGES’ COMMENTS: Columnists are at their best when they use history and facts to hold people, systems, and institutions to account. Ladd does it all and does it superbly. So well written. Thank you for the great read.

2nd Place, Breaking News, Non-Daily: Nick Judin, “Gov. Tate Reeves’ slow responses to COVID-19″
2nd Place, Ongoing Coverage, Non-Daily: Nick Judin, “Digging Deep for COVID-19 solutions in Mississippi”

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