The Mississippi Free Press staff learned today that we have won seven first-place awards and 15 total honors in the Society for Professional Journalists Diamond Awards spanning seven southern states, including three of the top awards, including reporter Kayode Crown being named as Diamond Journalist of the Year, along with two other awards, one of them a first place for reporting on the dangers of lead to Black children in Mississippi’s capital city. Here is the then-embargoed press release we received this afternoon, verbatim:
LITTLE ROCK, Ark.—Reporters for Mississippi Free Press and KNWA-TV and the editor of the Pine Bluff Commercial took top honors Thursday night at the 2022 Diamond Journalism Awards ceremony here.
The awards, a regional competition sponsored by the Arkansas Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, honor journalism excellence among professionals and students from Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas. This year’s competition, for work published or broadcast in 2021, drew 379 entries in more than 80 categories. Judges were members of the SPJ chapters in Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming.
Mississippi Free Press staff took three of the competition’s top honors:
• Kayode Crown was named Diamond Journalist of the Year for his work for the Jackson-based online news outlet.
• Nick Judin won the Charlotte Tillar Schexnayder Public Service Award for “What the Jackson Water Crisis Revealed.”
• Christian Middleton and Grace Marion won the Robert S. McCord FOI Award for “Drug Unit Travails Hidden from Public View.”
Byron Tate, editor of Arkansas’ Pine Bluff Commercial received the Garrick Feldman Community Journalism Award for his reporting and editorials on and about Pine Bluff and Jefferson County. Chad Mira of Fayetteville’s KNWA-TV was named Outstanding New Journalist, an award that recognizes journalists who have worked in their market five years or fewer.
Following are the SPJ Diamond Awards and finalist honors the Mississippi Free Press won for journalism in 2021, including judges’ comments:
Diamond Journalist of the Year
Kayode Crown, Mississippi Free Press, Jackson (See Kayode’s reporting archive here.)
Judge Comment: Kayode produces meticulously researched and reported work with a narrative flow that keeps the reader hooked. He gravitates to meaty and meaningful stories – a broken jail and a broken justice system, lead poisoning, people detained for months without representation. He appears dedicated to shining the light in places that may otherwise not receive any.
Charlotte Tillar Schexnayder Public Service Award
Entry Title: What the Jackson Water Crisis Revealed
Entry Credit: Nick Judin, Mississippi Free Press, Jackson
Judge Comment: Nick Judin stands out for his relentless coverage, which not only included hard news and legislative reporting, but also beautifully researched and written human-centered stories. While many factors led to action for the citizens of the City of Jackson, I can’t help but believe Nick’s dogged commitment to the issue and to a community that has long felt forgotten contributed to that progress.
Robert S. McCord FOI Award
Entry Title: Drug Unit Travails Hidden from Public View
Entry Credit: Christian Middleton, Grace Marion, Mississippi Free Press, Jackson (Full series here, here and here.)
Judge Comment: Excellent use of both public records and old-fashioned watchdog reporting to uncover a disturbing issue that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. This is a perfect example of why access to public records is important to a democracy, and a perfect example of why journalists need to report from public records. Fantastic work!
SPECIAL SECTION – PRINT/ONLINE
Entry Title: Black Women, Systemic Barriers and COVID-19 Project
Entry Credit: DeAnna Tisdale Johnson, Azia Wiggins, Torsheta Jackson, Aliyah Veal, Kimberly Griffin, Kristin Brenemen, Donna Ladd, Mississippi Free Press
Judge Comment: An outstanding project by a team of journalists using superior written and visual journalism to trace historic roots of a public health phenomenon, educate on the consequences of systemic inequities, and illuminate solutions, all in an engaging digital package. Exceptional work.
PANDEMIC – PRINT/ONLINE
Entry Title: Delta Dangers to Mississippi, and U.S., Children
Entry Credit: Ashton Pittman, Mississippi Free Press
Judge Comment: Comprehensive look at the pandemic and children. Well researched and reported.
ENVIRONMENT – PRINT/ONLINE & TV/VIDEO
Entry Title: Lead Contamination of Black Jackson Children (+solutions followup)
Entry Credit: Kayode Crown, Mississippi Free Press
Judge Comment: A lot going on in this story. The news hook of an outside attorney suing on behalf of hundreds of local kids leads the story, but then there is this killer quote buried down low: “And so, in Flint, even if everybody drank as much water as they could, they were only drinking bad water for 14 or 15 months,” the attorney added. “In Jackson, they’ve been drinking bad water, in some instances, for their whole lives.” Good reporting trying to put all the pieces of this tragedy together under one headline.
COMMENTARY – PRINT/ONLINE
Entry Title: Racism and Police Violence in Today’s Mississippi
Entry Credit: Leo Carney, Mississippi Free Press
Judge Comment: These columns are moral without being sentimental, packed with reporting and history to back up pointed commentary speaking truth to power and to fellow citizens.
Entry Title: Stickball World Series Back After COVID Halt
Entry Credit: Roger Amos, Mississippi Free Press
Judge Comment: Excellent piece on cultural heritage, exposing the rich pride and traditions carried out by Native Americans in Mississippi. Also enjoyed the use of multimedia video.
Garrick Feldman Community Journalism Award
Entry Title: Black Women, Covid-19 and Education in Noxubee County
Entry Credit: Torsheta Jackson, Donna Ladd, Kristin Brenemen, Mississippi Free Press
Judge Comment: The strength of Torsheta and Donna’s BWC Project is in its approach. They returned to the roots of community journalism – listening to the people and honoring their experience. The stories dug into the community’s past, unapologetically unearthing and naming the systemic racism that still plagues Black women in Noxubee County today. But possibly the best contribution of this work – they know there’s more reporting to do, and they aim to continue to do it.
SCIENCE – PRINT/ONLINE
Entry Title: Using Tech to Reverse Inequities
Entry Credit: Aliyah Veal, Mississippi Free Press
Judge Comment: Each story told the story of a different social issue and how technology was being used to address it. Good job on a solid series of articles that displays the intersection between science and humanity.
HEALTH – PRINT/ONLINE
Entry Title: Solutions for Health Equity in Mississippi
Entry Credit: Nick Judin, Mississippi Free Press
Judge Comment: A solid solutions story about COVID-19 vaccine outreach efforts aiming for communities where trust, for many, has been lost.
BREAKING NEWS – PRINT/ONLINE & TV/VIDEO
Entry Title: Covid Strikes Mississippi Children
Entry Credit: Ashton Pittman, Mississippi Free Press, Jackson
Judge Comment: I found these entries to be compelling and told with a point of view that tried to answer the question of why. And in an uncertain time, I found that act compelling.
ONGOING COVERAGE – PRINT/ONLINE
Entry Title: One Jail’s Tale of Abuse and Decay
Entry Credit: Kayode Crown, Mississippi Free Press, Jackson
Judge Comment: Good reporting on an astonishingly bad situation. Good background from start to finish.
FEATURES — PRINT
Entry Title: Black Women Firefighters on Gulf Coast
Entry Credit: Stacey Cato, Mississippi Free Press
Judge Comment: This was a great look into pioneers in firefighting. The reporter asked great questions and was able to reveal a great deal.
BUSINESS – PRINT/ONLINE & TV/VIDEO
Entry Title: Business Boondoggles in Rural Mississippi Entry
Credit: Christian Middleton, Mississippi Free Press
See the full list of 2022 SPJ Diamond Award winners here; congrats to them all! Read about the 30 awards Mississippi Free Press team members won in 2021 for journalism in 2020 and the first half of 2021 in some contests. See our logs of impact, media coverage and pickups of our journalism, awards and appearance on the MFP Impact page.