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Six faces of freelance writers for the Mississippi Free Press
(Clockwise from top left) Gaven Wallace, Michelle Chung, Virginia Sciolino, Margi Troxler, Robert Pennell and Gracie Lee joined the Mississippi Free Press as freelance writers. In their roles, these students ranging from graduate to high-school levels of academia have increased their firsthand knowledge of journalistic writing, finishing and working on articles covering a number of topics. Photo MFP

Good Journalism Propagates Itself: Training Student Writers Brings Joy

Some of you may have read my name or seen my face—and some of you have mistaken me for our wonderful Infrastructure Reporter Nick Judin—but I wanted to take the opportunity to introduce myself while I have your attention. I have worked as an editor with both the Jackson Free Press and now Mississippi Free Press for a combined four years and change under the tutelage of Donna Ladd, one heck of a mentor. 

Usually, I keep a low profile and work behind the scenes to manage our culture and feature content, but I am stepping outside the curtain to brag about our freelancers, particularly our student writers who have decided to dabble in or pursue careers in journalism. Many of these students approached us with little or even no prior journalistic experience, yet they demonstrated an eagerness to learn the craft and a hunger for feedback to help them grow as writers. 

Graduate student Gaven Wallace has covered the Hattiesburg area through articles on two Mississippian visual artists, the pocket museum’s rubber-duck scavenger hunt and a fundraiser to create a scholarship at Pearl River Community College for students who lived in the foster-care system since he joined the Mississippi Free Press team at the beginning of the 2022 fall semester. Gaven has an expanded article on resources to assist foster-care children access higher education that is on the horizon, and he is working on feature stories about Hattiesburg-based improv groups and local music artists. 

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Michelle Chung, a high-school junior also based in Hattiesburg who serves as editor-in-chief of Presbyterian Christian School’s student newspaper, wrote a remarkable Voices article on why she believes anti-trans legislation in regard to sports may not be as “fair” as certain lawmakers claim. She is transitioning into writing features, so readers can expect to see her byline appear in stories such as an upcoming piece about an elementary-school teacher in Petal, Miss., who won a prestigious award this year, among other subjects.

Virginia Sciolino has previously worked closely with Deputy Editor Azia Wiggins on a Voices column centered on reproductive rights and is now similarly shifting to culture stories. Her newest one on a bronze sculpture honoring the Natchez U.S. Colored Troops is in the editorial phase now! Other undergraduate students like Gracie Lee and Margi Troxler are working on their first stories with our publication as well.

In my role, I am able to oversee the progress of these rising stars, using lessons Donna Ladd and others have instilled to polish these students’ already evident talent. While I am continually striving to be a more effective editor every day, I have found that paying that knowledge forward and helping new writers learn the ropes of our chosen field is a greatly rewarding experience. 

Last fall, Katherine Torres Cruz chose the Mississippi Free Press when applying for internships. She and I worked closely throughout the semester as she cut her teeth on a heavily researched article on the University of Mississippi’s integration history, a long-form piece we hope to finalize soon. Katherine deeply cares about issues affecting ignored or overlooked communities within Mississippi, and she possesses a passion to use storytelling to shine light on those topics. 

During the MFP staff meeting in the downtown Jackson office last week, Katherine participated in an in-house solutions circle discussing barriers and opportunities for local newsrooms, and Katherine’s insights were extremely nuanced and thoughtful. I love seeing a drive for a better Mississippi propelling students in this state. They are so engaged in current events, and they understand that the decisions they make can affect the future for the better.

Four people sit or stand around a small table and discuss something being written on a board behind them
Katherine Torres Cruz (left) joined the Mississippi Free Press in August 2022 as an editorial intern. Over the months since then, she has conducted document-focused research, interviewed sources, practiced photography, fact-checked and accomplished other tasks involved with journalism and editing. Recently, she attended a Mississippi Free Press in-house solutions circle and writing workshop, working in a group with Kimberly Griffin (second from left), Roger Amos (third from left) and Nate Schumann (right). Photo by Donna Ladd

For this reason, now that most schools in Mississippi have completed their spring breaks, I am inviting students interested in journalism to apply to be interns or to otherwise join the MFP as freelance writers. Given our status as a statewide publication, we are happy to establish remote internships so that our freelancers can operate from many areas of our state, though we do possess a physical office for those nearby who would like to use it, with notice.

As we do with all writers, we pay student freelancers and interns for their work. Interns receive direct tutelage and work on tasks representative of different facets to journalism. And those who want the experience but don’t need the college credits can sharpen their skills with the MFP while writing at intervals that work for them—be that one story per month, one per week, one every three months, and so on. We also invite them to workshops to share their visions for journalism and our state.

Training new generations of storytellers is vital for keeping journalism filled with people who are passionate about enacting change. Maybe you know students who have expressed an interest in writing; send them our way. Perhaps you want to donate to the MFP so that we can pay and train more student writers. Every dollar helps as we enter our spring campaign, so never underestimate the effects your donations can have. 

Applicants for either intern or general freelancing positions may send their résumés and two writing samples to Many college students are presently finalizing their schedules for the summer or fall semesters, so now is a great time to introduce yourselves. I’m really, really looking forward to e-meeting you all. 

This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Journalism and Education Group, the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an opinion for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and sources fact-checking the included information to We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.

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