There is nothing quite like watching your plan come together over and over again. I had one of those moments earlier this week when I opened an email from the administrator of the Society for Professional Journalists’ Diamonds Awards that listed journalists who were finalists for 2021 work. The Arkansas SPJ chapter administers this southern journalism contest across the seven states that border that state, from Texas and Missouri down here to Mississippi and Louisiana.
The MFP had a stellar showing in the SPJ Diamonds contest for our 2020 work during our first year publishing, with 15 awards, 11 of them first place. But this year was even more special to me, Publisher and co-founder Kimberly Griffin and the team: 15 MFP team members’ names appeared in a thick paragraph under our publication’s name. Most were staffers, but several stellar freelancers are recognized including Jackson Advocate Publisher DeAnna Tisdale Johnson for our ongoing “Black Women, COVID-19 and Systemic Barriers” collaboration, supported by the Solutions Journalism Network. (The Advocate-MFP collaboration honors two historic Black and civil-rights newspapers of the past, by the way, with the very same names.)
Regardless of final award placement, we celebrate every recognition at the Mississippi Free Press, just as we did when Kimberly and I helped run the Jackson Free Press. This matters in Mississippi, especially when the work of people new to the profession draws regional and national attention. Mississippians deserve notice when we produce excellence, especially considering that we’re best known for the opposite of it.
Our Diamonds finalist list, of course, included mega-award winners like Ashton Pittman, last year’s Diamond Journalist of the Year—but it also includes Mississippi journalists like Gulf Coast-based Stacey Cato who have worked hard in local journalism for years drawing too little recognition. It lifts up freelance journalists like Noxubee County-raised Torsheta Jackson who have moved into a more rigorous style of systemic reporting in the last year.
Vitally, the Diamonds are also honoring latecomers to journalism like Deputy Editor Azia Wiggins, Roger Amos and Leo Carney, who are killing it in this industry and telling stories often ignored about their communities, which most journalism under-serves. And although she was left off the initial awards list, the Diamond honorees also included my decade-plus colleague Creative Director Kristin Brenemen for the gorgeous BWC Project microsite design. (I still remember her showing up at the Jackson Free Press as an intern.)
Put simply, I was so damn proud to see all of these deserving folks, the vast majority of whom grew up in Mississippi, in one long list for excellence in a state where it is so little expected. These folks do the hard work of shoe-leather reporting for their pieces, or in producing it, and they’re hungry to be the best at their craft. And although a column in The New York Times just belittled the need for it in journalism, these folks use their own lived experiences daily to do work others inside and outside the state miss or just ignore. And people over power is at the heart of the MFP team’s work, although that certainly includes holding the powerful accountable for what they do to the people, or don’t do for them.
To a person, these folks and others not included in this round, mutually support and respect the entire team far beyond their immediate colleagues and editors, and they all give Kimberly and me joy daily. Oh, and Kimberly made the list for her engagement work on the BWC Project, meaning two Black women publishers from Mississippi are SPJ Diamond Award finalists. I bet money that’s a first.
This, readers and supporters, is what it’s about. This is why we started the Mississippi Free Press. Not to win a boatload of honors (although that’s sweet), but to encourage, train and lift up excellence in our state on the road to truth-telling, inclusion and needle-moving. And to do it on a daily basis. The plan is definitely coming together.
Thank you for supporting this growing team, especially during this spring Solutions for Mississippi giving campaign. And please become a MFP VIP Club member and attend my Shut Up and Write Talk 4 tomorrow (Tuesday, April 26) at 6 p.m. and then join famed songwriter, author and Waynesboro, Miss., native Tena Clark’s member talk at 6 p.m. on May 10. Plus, you’ll get access to all previous member events including an emotional and uplifting Randall Pinkston coffee talk Saturday (we all cried at his last story), and other talks by Angie Thomas, Stuart Stevens, Aunjanue Ellis and Reena Evers-Everette.
We appreciate you. Please keep spreading the word about the Mississippi Free Press and our dedication to excellence and solutions in our home state.
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.