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Deputy Editor Azia Wiggins (left) and Publisher and Chief Revenue Officer Kimberly Griffin are helping lead a new, three-pronged approach to journalism in Mississippi and the United States: systemic reporting. Now, they’re both nominated for national nonprofit-news awards. Photos courtesy Azia Wiggins, Kimberly Griffin

Two Mississippi Women Honored For Leading U.S. Nonprofit Media Toward Systemic Journalism

I pinch myself daily. OK, not literally—ouch—but I do give thanks every damn day for the Mississippi Free Press team I work with in person and virtually. (My head math this week told me I’d worked with this team at Jackson Free Press and now the MFP for a combined 75 years, give or take. Wow.) 

Each weekday, and some weekends, these amazing people come together to expose often-ignored truth about our state and listen to our deep and inclusive network of Mississippians and expats who want to finally see solutions and are tired of red-vs.-blue horse-race pablum, usually regurgitated by white men across media and politics.

We all know the typical media drill. And we reject it in very intentional and active ways, instead seeking out real Mississippians, often unheard, to educate us about the disparities they face daily. We then dig deeply to explain why those systemic barriers exist—an approach I dubbed “systemic reporting.” It’s a phrase long used in science, which belongs in journalism as we recreate how we approach reporting in a more inclusive and cause/solution-driven way.

Our full team supports and cheers each other on as we go. It’s not a newsroom for the selfish or those who want all the credit and only share their own work. We are collaborative in much more than name-only.

Kimberly and Azia: Burning Desire to Help Home State

Now, two Mississippi Free Press women who have helped ensure from launch day that we don’t repeat the same old drill and that we continually add new Voices are nominated for coveted national honors. Judges for the top U.S. nonprofit news organization’s annual awards have named my co-founder, Publisher and Chief Revenue Officer Kimberly Griffin, as one of three finalists for the Emerging Leader in nonprofit media award. Not to mention, the Mississippi Business Journal just named Kimberly as one of Mississippi’s Leading Business Women. 

The Institute for Nonprofit News judges also named Deputy Editor for Voices and Systemic Reporting Azia Wiggins as a finalist for the Nonprofit Newcomer of the Year Award. This is especially wonderful because Azia is early in her journalism career and started with Nate Schumann and me at the JFP as an editorial assistant. 

Azia Wiggins writing on a whiteboard
Azia Wiggins started at the Mississippi Free Press as it launched an an editorial assistant and is now the deputy editor of voices and systemic reporting, which includes coordinating and reporting for the “(In)Equity and Resilience: Black Women, Systemic Barriers and COVID-19” project. She also recruits writers and edits the MFP Voices (opinion) section. She writes that she uses the door that opened to her to open doors for other native Black Mississippians. Photo by Donna Ladd

Azia then became the executive assistant when we launched the MFP, doing whatever was needed, and within months, I named her a deputy editor for two reasons. First, she has natural skills as a writer and editor, which is rarer than you think. Second, she has a deep network and a burning desire to bring more voices into the media and train others to do what she’s doing.

Azia wrote a beautiful column about her journey to this point at the MFP here. She explains it much better than I can, so do yourself a favor and read her words.

Three-Pronged Systemic Reporting Approach

Both Kimberly and Azia are integral to our three-pronged systemic-reporting approach, as seen in our “Black Women, COVID-19 and Systemic Barriers” collaboration with the Jackson Advocate. They are the organizers of the Black women-only solutions circles for that project; they are building and tracking networks across Mississippi it is building; and Azia is reporting one of the county focuses herself—Holmes County and health-care access, coming soon. Azia did a wonderful video interview here about our systemic reporting—which we approach like a journalistic systems analysis (allowing her to use her scientific training, too!) Azia is a natural in front of the camera, too, as you’ll see in that video.

What Kimberly and Azia, but not only them, represent is that our Free Press approach to inclusion isn’t just on the surface and hasn’t been for 20 years since the Jackson Free Press launched (where Kimberly and I worked together for 13 years before launching the MFP in 2020). For us, this is about telling stories across our communities that a wide mix of people across our state and town (and, yes, country) will read and absorb, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, economic status or political party. 

Problems aren’t solved when we just preach, or report, to a choir. And hey, we did this together brilliantly at the Jackson Free Press in the capital-city region. Now we’re doing it as a nonprofit across Mississippi with deep reader and donor support. We proved the model, and now we’re spreading it. 

Thank You for Supporting New Journalism Approach

That, of course, is where you come in. You folks make this journalism possible. And you enable us to seek out great talent in Mississippi—all but one employee grew up here, and that is the awe-inspiring Kayode Crown—and train them regardless of their background or journalism education.

Mississippi Free Press readers across the state and nation are helping us grow systemic reporting in various ways: donations, shares, testimony about our work, introductions and much. We thank you.

We’re very good at this, and our work has a pile of awards, impact and track record prove it. And young people we’ve trained and worked with over the years are doing amazing things across the country, from impactful reporting to best-selling books, to running organizations.

Please keep supporting Free Press journalism and this growth right here in Mississippi. Believe in our potential here, just as we all do, to a person. Walk with us however you can. Tell others to join our growing base of readers and supporters.

We’re here for the long haul and the hard work. We believe in that mountaintop Dr. King preached about. We all have to climb it together, though. We can. We will.

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 sources fact-checking the included information to [email protected] We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints. 

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