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Mississippi Free Press Awards Tally: 46 Honors for Work Since March 2020

Office filled with two long walls of awards top to bottom
The combined awards for Mississippi Free Press and Jackson Free Press journalism now line three full walls in the MFP offices in downtown Jackson, Miss. Photo by Donna Ladd

The Mississippi Free Press awards board keeps swelling! As of Oct. 31, 2022, our team is up to 43 national and U.S. regional awards and finalist nods since we launched in late March 2020. Here they are with links to the work (see winners’ bios here). We will update this page from the top as more honors come in.

2022 Lion Publishers Awards

1st Place, Community Engagement Award
(In)Equity and Resilience: Black Women, Systemic Barriers and COVID-19 Project
Team: Azia Wiggins, Torsheta Jackson, Aliyah Veal, DeAnna Tisdale Johnson, Kristin Brenemen, Robin Martéa, Acacia Clark, Kimberly Griffin, Donna Ladd
Judges: “I’m very impressed with this project, how it was created, the focus and the potential impact. With a thorough and organized approach, the Mississippi Free Press has been able to build trust with the community and then offer a platform for them to share the specific challenges they face every day.”

Finalist, Public Service Award
“Ridgeland Mayor Demands LGBTQ+ Book Purge, Threatens Library Funding” (series)
Nick Judin

Finalist, Revenue Campaign of the Year
“Solutions for Mississippi” spring fundraising campaign
Team: Kimberly Griffin, Cristen Hemmins, Donna Ladd

2022 Institute for Nonprofit News Awards

graphic announcing Mississippi Free Press as "Startup of the Year"
After starting on a shoestring budget as the pandemic hit the state in March 2020, the Mississippi Free Press won the coveted 2021 “Startup of the Year” award from the Institute for Nonprofit News. Finalists were The 19th, The City (New York), Block Club Chicago and Sahan Journal.

Winner, Emerging Nonprofit Leader of the Year: Kimberly Griffin
Judge comments: “Developing a nonprofit newsroom, especially in a state with such diverse audiences, can be incredibly challenging, but Kimberly’s leadership has helped this startup become a national leader in nonprofit newsrooms.”

Finalist, Nonprofit Newcomer of the Year: Azia Wiggins

2022 Society for Professional Journalists Diamond Awards

Winner, Diamond Journalist of the Year: Kayode Crown

(See Kayode’s reporting archive here.)

Judges: “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.

Kayode Crown, Winner of the SPJ Diamond Journalist of the Year Award
Kayode Crown is the 2022 Diamond Journalist of the Year.

Winner, Charlotte Tillar Schexnayder Public Service Award: Nick Judin – What the Jackson Water Crisis Revealed”
Judges: “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.”

Winner, Robert S. McCord FOI Award: Christian Middleton, Grace Marion
Drug Unit Travails Hidden from Public View” (Full series herehere and here.)
Judges: “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!”

The multi-award-winning “(In)Equity and Resilience: Black Women and COVID-19 in Mississippi,” which the team internally calls the “BWC Project” for short, started with three main counties—Noxubee, Hinds and Holmes—with other counties and systemic focus topics on the way. Map by Kristin Brenemen

Winner, Special Section
Team: DeAnna Tisdale Johnson, Azia Wiggins, Torsheta Jackson, Aliyah Veal, Kimberly Griffin, Kristin Brenemen, Donna Ladd
Black Women, Systemic Barriers and COVID-19 Project”
Judges: 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.

Winner, Pandemic Reporting–Print/Online: Ashton Pittman
Delta Dangers to Mississippi, and U.S., Children”
Judges: “Comprehensive look at the pandemic and children. Well researched and reported.”

Winner, Environmental Reporting: Kayode Crown
Lead Contamination of Black Jackson Children” (+solutions followup)
Judges: “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.'”

Winner, Commentary: Leo Carney
Racism and Police Violence in Today’s Mississippi”
Judges: “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.”

Winner, Sports Writing: Roger Amos
Stickball World Series Back After COVID Halt”
Judges: “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.”

Five stickball players running across a green field
Roger Amos’ piece about fellow Choctaw tribal members returning to stickball after a year of COVID-19 after a year of sheltering in place won the first-place 2022 SPJ Diamond Award for Sports Writing in a contest spanning seven southern states. Here, players chase after the ball during the Tulli Okchi Ishko stickball game for kids 14 through 17 years old during the Choctaw Indian Fair on Wednesday, July 13, 2022, in Choctaw, Miss. Photo by Lukas Flippo

Finalist, Garrick Feldman Community Journalism Award: Torsheta Jackson, Donna Ladd, Kristin Brenemen
Black Women, Covid-19 and Education in Noxubee County”
Judges: “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.”

Finalist, Education Reporting: Torsheta Jackson, Donna Ladd, Kristin Brenemen
“BWC Project: Education Disparities and Solutions in Noxubee County

Finalist, Science Reporting: Aliyah Veal
“Using Tech to Reverse Inequities”
Judges:
“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.”

Finalist, Health Reporting: Nick Judin
Solutions for Health Equity in Mississippi”
Judges: “A solid solutions story about COVID-19 vaccine outreach efforts aiming for communities where trust, for many, has been lost.”

Finalist, Breaking News: Ashton Pittman
“Covid Strikes Mississippi Children”
Judges: “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.”

Delbert Hosemann and Harvey Johnson
Reporter Nick Judin opened up a state and national dialogue on how white leaders treat Black leaders of Jackson, Miss., over infrastructure, water and other needs after his questions to Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann exposed the divide along race lines. Nick then followed up with multiple and award-winning in-depth pieces that have helped shape the conversation about Jackson’s water crisis to date.
Delbert Hosemann photo courtesy Delbert Hosemann. Harvey Johnson photo courtesy Jackson Free Press / Trip Burns

Finalist, Ongoing Coverage: Kayode Crown
“One Jail’s Tale of Abuse and Decay”
Judges: Good reporting on an astonishingly bad situation. Good background from start to finish.

Finalist, Feature Writing: Stacey Cato
“Black Women Firefighters on Gulf Coast”
Judges: “This was a great look into pioneers in firefighting. The reporter asked great questions and was able to reveal a great deal.”

Finalist, Business Reporting: Christian Middleton
“Business Boondoggles in Rural Mississippi Entry”

Additional 2022 Awards:

Mississippi Business Journal
Winner, 50 Leading Businesswomen Awards, 2022:
Kimberly Griffin

Editor & Publisher Magazine
Winner, Editors Extraordinaire, 2022: Donna Ladd

Green Eyeshade Awards
Third Place, Deadline Reporting:
Ashton Pittman

_____________

2021 Institute for Nonprofit News Awards

Winner, Startup of the Year: Mississippi Free Press
Judges: “Mississippi Free Press is doing super impressive work on all fronts – journalism that doesn’t just inform Mississippians but also leads the way for national readers and media outlets. They have created a statewide presence in a short period of time and they clearly have very strong growth in revenue size and diversity. Their projects are innovative and approach the audience as partner, and they are performing genuinely leading edge work on building a young, diverse audience.”

Finalist, Best Investigative Reporting: Ashton Pittman
“The Fabric Is Torn in Oxford’: UM Emails Investigation”

See all national 2021 INN winners and finalists here, with judges’ comments.

2021 Lion Publishers Awards

Finalist, Investigative Report of the Year (Small Tier): Ashton Pittman
“The Fabric Is Torn in Oxford’: UM Emails Investigation”

See all national 2021 Lion Award winners and finalists here.

2021 SPJ Diamond Awards (honors 2020 work)

Winner, Diamond Journalist of the Year: Ashton Pittman
See Ashton’s MFP reporting archive here
Judges: 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, 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)
UM Emails Interactive Timeline
Judges: “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, Investigative Reporting: Ashton Pittman
“The Fabric Is Torn in Oxford’: UM Emails Investigation”
Judges: “These stories present a troubling pattern at a major institution.”

Ashton Pittman’s “UM emails” investigative series won eight awards, including first-place. On Sept. 21, 2018, Oxford and University of Mississippi community members flanked Meek School of Journalism and New Media Dean Will Norton as he denounced a Facebook post by Ed Meek, the school’s top donor and namesake. The Mississippi Free Press examined emails that show that, at the time, Norton knew more than he publicly admitted about who actually took the photos and video that Meek shared. Screencap courtesy University of Mississippi.

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: “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, 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 Capital City
Gleaning, Saving Expired Food From Homes And Farms Can Feed Mississippi’s Hungry
Judges: “This 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: 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: “Strong deadline writing from the Mississippi Free Press makes it the clear winner in this category.”

1st Place, Ongoing Coverage: 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: “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.”

The day after a group of white supremacists went on a deadly rampage in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017, students at the University of Southern Mississippi who support the Black Lives Matter movement interrupted a demonstration supporting the state flag. Ashton Pittman’s work about the long, long journey to change the Mississippi flag won a first-place Society of Professional Journalists Diamond Award. Photo by Ashton Pittman.

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

1st Place, Politics: 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: “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: 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’

Aliyah Veal - MFP Voter Project Contributor
Culture Reporter Aliyah Veal, who previously reported for the Jackson Free Press has won multiple awards for our in-depth and beautifully writing writing on music, race and racism, arts and more for the Mississippi Free Press.

3rd Place, Explanatory Reporting: 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: 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: “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.”

2021 Ancil Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism

Finalist: Ashton Pittman and Donna Ladd
“The Fabric Is Torn in Oxford’: UM Emails Investigation”

Columbia Graduate School of Journalism

Winner, Alumni Award: Donna Ladd

2021 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: 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

Herbert Brown in South Jackson
Reporter Aliyah Veal won a first-place SPJ Green Eyeshade Award for her reporting on South Jackson as as a food and fresh-food desert. She wrote that Herbert Brown (pictured) had to travel miles from his home in one of the more upscale neighborhoods left in the area to get many needed grocery items. Photo by Seyma Bayram/courtesy Jackson Free Press

___________

In addition to the 43 awards for the MFP team above, several former Jackson Free Press team members won awards for Jackson Free Press journalism in the first year of the MFP’s tenure. They are below. The MFP acquired JFP archives earlier in 2022, and you can view Jackson Free Press awards since 2002 here.

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”

Read Publisher Kimberly Griffin’s acceptance speech (and watch it) in October 2022 in Austin, Texas, for the Lion Publishers Award for Community Service.

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