The musical “Hamilton” has a song called “The Room Where It Happened.” It details the deal between James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton to move the U.S. Capitol from New York to (what eventually became) Washington, D.C., in exchange for implementing Hamilton’s economic plan. In the musical, and I’m assuming real life, Jefferson hated Hamilton’s proposed financial structure for the new country. Still, he was willing to go along with it to get the seat of power closer to Virginia, Jefferson’s literal seat of power and the home of his Monticello plantation.
One of my favorite sets of lyrics is:
No one else was in the room where it happened
The room where it happened
The room where it happened
No one really knows how the game is played
The art of the trade
How the sausage gets made
We just assume that it happens
But no one else is in the room where it happens.
The Mississippi Free Press is women-founded and -run, and we hardly ever know how the sausage gets made in the room where “the game” happens, though we’ve got some ideas. As you’ve heard me repeat time and time again, and again Friday night when my team won a big national journalism award for our groundbreaking BWC Project, our newsroom looks like Mississippi with Black folks and Brown folks, gay folks, Spanish-speaking folks, rural folks, city folks, Indigenous folks, to name a few of the communities my colleagues represent. Not to mention, almost everyone one of us grew up here.
|MFP Publisher and Chief Revenue Officer Kimberly Griffin accepts the national Community Engagement Award at the Lion Publishers Conference 2022.|
We don’t represent every community in Mississippi, but we darn well try daily and will continue to get better at it. That’s frightening for people in power because our existence challenges the media and leadership status quo, how news is done and what communities are served. Our solutions-focused journalism empowers Mississippians to ask important questions of power brokers because we give them information, causes, and solutions that other media ignore, sensationalize or trivialize.
We Challenge Traditional Power Structures
While at the media conference last week, I witnessed people working hard to get it right by acknowledging white supremacy in nearly every session and asking marginalized communities what they can do better. Last Friday, a Latina media leader talked through a shaking voice about being closed out by major grant makers because of flimsy excuses women and people of color hear daily.
We all know that white men can have the worst ideas, and someone somewhere will still fund them. Donna and I show up with PowerPoints, Google Analytics, nearly four dozen awards since March 2020 (not including those our team won during that time for Jackson Free Press work), a bevy of national media appearances and cites, example after example of real impact, and people will look us dead in our faces and say, “I mean, is this sustainable? Can you prove it?” or “Are you serving underrepresented communities?” And that’s if we get the meeting in the first place.
It’s infuriating, but we’re not deterred because we believe in the work and the people we serve. And because our readers have our backs.
An immediate way to counter this bias is for even more individuals to support our work—give what you can to our nonprofit outlet and tell your friends. Next week kicks off Newsmatch, our winter fundraising campaign facilitated by the Institute for Nonprofit News. Thanks in advance for your patience as we email you often, text you a bit and generally ask for your help to grow this work.
We don’t have deep pockets and are not invited to a lot of rooms where donors give big grants to media that don’t challenge traditional power structures, including inside journalism. We want to do far more than “sustain,” which is why our fundraising drives are so important. We are here to help our state and nation solve problems and increase engagement and participation (beyond the usual suspects) by providing missing information and listening deeply to what our communities need and your suggestions.
There are a few significant ways you can impact our work. Some donors match a certain amount dollar for dollar; others donate their minimum distribution from a 501k, some supporters donate royalties from creative projects like books or music. You can reply to this email if any of these sound interesting. If none of that seems feasible right now, donate what you can in the amount you can to our 501(c)(3). Visit mfp.ms/donate to give online and to find an address to send checks.
Proverbs 18:16 essentially says your gifts will make room for you—which means your work, mission, vision and values will move mountains when it feels like you can’t move a pebble. That’s what these power brokers don’t know about our faith in Mississippians and our long-time readers’ faith in us rooted in our two decades of honest Free Press journalism here in Mississippi.
I hold that understanding closely as I consider this remarkable Mississippi Free Press team who have done more to reach, listen to and help our communities in 2.5 years than some outlets have done in decades.
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.