Two years ago this week, Donna and Ashton dropped the MFP’s first stories. Our initial reporting examined the patchwork of mandates, or lack thereof, as the COVID-19 virus spread through the state over spring break. And their stories, including a big one dropped over the first real pandemic weekend in Mississippi, spread like a virus as well.
That “patchwork” story—which The New Yorker magazine later relied on for a follow-up—also revealed how we planned to approach statewide journalism. Donna and Ashton could see the inconsistencies in COVID safety precautions and, especially, the lack of a consistent statewide strategy, a problem about which our journalism would continue leading coverage for two years so far. It was vital to zoom in on different towns and counties across Mississippi to compare, contrast and share solutions they were attempting locally on the way to finding the holes in the plans. Put simply, focusing just on what leaders in Jackson were doing, or not doing, was decidedly not enough. Essential Mississippi journalism must go local to tell hidden stories.
Since then, we’ve continued to report on what is, and isn’t, and could be happening on the ground in counties across Mississippi in a way you won’t find anywhere else.
Because you are reading this, you know we never stopped telling Mississippi stories since we launched our nonprofit newsroom with one editor and one reporter and a tiny budget. Our statewide and national media and reader attention grew rapidly throughout 2020 and then even more last year, drawing 3 million page views in our first full year, very high for a Mississippi media startup’s early years. The strong regard for our team’s work continues. The MFP serves as source material and inspiration for outlets from The Washington Post to NPR to BET—and many other publications serving Black, Brown and LGBTQ+ communities across the nation.
I’m really proud of that and can’t say enough about our diverse team of Mississippians (raised and adopted) who do hard work in a state where the powerful usually don’t want the whole truth told.
Those accolades and our growing team’s dozens of national and southeastern U.S. awards and nominations so far in just one annual award cycle so far are significant and mean a lot, but what means more are the notes we get after a story series that challenges Mississippians’ lies about themselves and their communities. My favorite emails go something like this: “I’ve lived in Mississippi my entire life, and I had no idea.”
So many people tell us that we represent the kind of excellence and honesty they didn’t quite think is possible in Mississippi. Many Mississippians swallow the bill of goods that we can’t do any better here when, frankly, the system is designed to fail many, and it stays the same because people believe the myth that we cannot change and improve it together. Myth-making and half-truths serve the powerful and encourage the powerless to lobby against themselves or just plain give up.
I’m asking you not to give up on Mississippi. Help us celebrate our 2nd anniversary by joining the MFP VIP Club. You can become a member for as little as $10 a month. Members have access to fabulous events like Donna’s writing talks (her third is Tuesday, March 22, talking about the importance of planning and mapping out your stories before you write). As a member, you’ll have immediate access to all the previous events, including deep conversations with Oscar nominee Aunjanue Ellis, authors Angie Thomas and Stuart Stevens, and community activist Reena Evers-Everette.
Bonus: If you start your recurring donation by Tuesday at 5 p.m. CDT you can join Donna’s non-fiction writing talk live that same date at 6 p.m. Whatever you decide, keep reading; we see you, and we appreciate all you’ve done to help us mark this milestone.
We will never give up on our state’s future, and we know you won’t, either.
This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an essay for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and factcheck information to [email protected] We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.