Right now, there’s a lot of talk in the media about scaling, growth and bigness. (Is that a word?) You get my point. Big is successful, and small is not so much. Quite frankly, it’s all troubling. Large organizations don’t always function well or serve the people as medium and small organizations do. The idea that “bigger is better” created this wealth of news deserts that the proposed new media is supposed to combat.
You’ll remember, or maybe you won’t depending on your age, that the 1990s and early 2000s saw large media companies seeping into local markets and buying everything in sight. Now just about everything they bought is either closed or on life support or, at best, irrelevant in local communities.
We spent our time at the Jackson Free Press, where most of our team worked before transitioning to the Mississippi Free Press, serving the people of Jackson in ways big media wouldn’t and couldn’t, covering local government and telling local stories that demanded community trust and deep understanding of Jackson and the people who love this place that outsiders don’t understand—nor did they seem particularly interested in understanding. (How did I become a southerner talking about outsiders?)
What I’m seeing right now reminds me of that not-too-distant past, only with nonprofit media now in the mix. All over the South, folks are pouring money into “startups” using the same old patterns and playbooks that muscle out women, Black, Brown folks and a host of other marginalized communities.
There’s a lot of good small journalism in the U.S. right now. People do fantastic work serving regions or states like we do or communities within communities like immigrants or people of color. They are doing very, very good and very, very hard work on the micro, small and medium level. Yet before our eyes, we see folks opening new newsrooms or funding newish newsrooms with a lot of money, sometimes in the same markets these independent outlets are serving.
In some cases, it’s millions of dollars. I find it paternalistic when there are people from the community a newsroom serves—such as the Free Press combined team made of mostly native Mississippians for 21 years now—then someone shows up and derides or ignores outlets that are doing the work and doing it well as not big enough. Why not go help those folks not worry about fundraising from big donors for a few years or maybe fund a project they already do well? Why are people who don’t understand a region or its people suddenly so fixated on “helping” when they’ve ignored our communities for years?
I think it boils down to power, perhaps a little bit of “how dare those women and BIPOC folks and gay folks and Indigenous people get stuff done without our help or approval or money.” It’s an interesting time, I tell you.
Thank God for people like you who understand that we aren’t a fly-by-night joint and who know and appreciate our 21 years of Free Press journalism done right in service of the people over power. And our deepest thanks to national organizations like the Park Center for Independent Media in New York that announced that we are one of four winners of the Izzy Award this year, named for muckraking journalism hero I.F. Stone. The Izzy judges wrote about us, in part: “The Mississippi Free Press is an impressive argument for the importance of local nonprofit news. Its fearless and empathetic reporting exposes racial and economic fault lines that go back centuries, vividly exposing how they shape politics and power in Mississippi in the 21st century.”
Give what you can to keep this vital work going. Every gift makes a difference to my fellow Mississippians telling Mississippi stories and to the MFP team and me.
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 [email protected] We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.