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The Mississippi Free Press announced three new team members, all from Mississippi, in February 2024 (left to right): Executive Assistant Erica Hines, Special Projects Assistant Acacia Clark and Photo Editor Imani Khayyam. Photos courtesy Erica Hines, Acacia Clark, Imani Khayyam

Publisher’s Note | We’ve Just Hired Three New Team Members. Plus, A Promotion.

I spent part of this week at the Local News Summit in Charleston, S.C., which the Lenfest Institute and Aspen Institute convene for a small group of journalism leaders annually.  We local media types talked about everything from artificial intelligence to sustainability. We also discussed the massive layoffs at the Los Angeles Times; the shakeup of the top leadership at the media startup Houston Landing; the private investor David D. Smith’s recent acquisition of Maryland’s largest newspaper, the Baltimore Sun. I also caught up this morning to the news that The Messenger, another startup that blew through $50 million in less than a year, is shutting down and laying off people they hired out of other jobs. 

This is the part where I tell you to fund local people already doing the work. Moving on. 

‘That’s Rich People’s Business’

These headlines might seem bleak to the casual observer, and I certainly don’t want to see good journalists out of work, but from where I stand, the media landscape is incredibly bright and promising. Also, if you are a laid-off journalist reading this and are from the South, this is your signal to move home. Your mama misses you, the cost of living is great, and I can name a dozen newsrooms that need you. 

At another virtual convening of industry folks that also happened this week, we continued the conversation about newsroom implosions, layoffs and acquisitions. A few people chimed in that their staff was concerned about their jobs, but most of us said these issues seem far removed from our local medium and small newsrooms. As I like to say when celebrities fight, “That’s not T Kimmy’s business. That’s rich people’s business.” (My godson calls me T Kimmy. You can’t call me that, but if you are under the age of my oldest niece, I will allow Auntie.)

Most of the people in that virtual convening of news leaders are optimistic for pretty much the same reasons: we’re transparent with our staff about our financials, we are good places to work, and we don’t just do journalism for the usual suspects and politicians. Not to mention, more and more philanthropists are investing in newsrooms that cover smaller communities, that don’t start with deep pockets and are often born out legacy media or, in our case, grow from smaller coverage areas like our Jackson Free Press.

Welcome Imani, Erica and Acacia; Congrats to Nick!

This brings to me an important announcement.  Our newsroom is growing because of supporters like you! We’re thrilled to announce three new hires. First, Imani Khayyam is returning for the big job of photo editor, again working with Creative Director Kristin Brenemen, but now in a leadership role. Imani has worked with our team on and off for years, including a stint as the Jackson Free Press staff photographer. He is already the assistant program manager for our Youth Media Project and working with Donna Ladd on special projects (which often involves them ending up in boats or on dirt roads. They’re quite the Gonzo reporting team). Imani, who also shoots for The New York Times and The Guardian, is incredibly talented and one of the most decent people I’ve ever met. We are fortunate that he chose to stay in his home state of Mississippi because he could easily take his talent to a larger market, just like all of our team members. 

We’ve also hired a new executive assistant. Erica Hines is a Canton, Miss., native  who has run her own business for eight years on top of 16 years of marketing experience. Erica will take the place of Shaye Smith, who is now our chief of staff, which is a big deal with our rapidly growing team; a big part of Shaye’s job, with Erica’s assistance, is to make sure we’re taking care of this remarkable team well and oversee and overhaul systems to make our daily work lives run smoothly and ensure good work-life balance for everyone. And to ensure regular team trainings and enrichment opportunities.

Nick Judin
Former Jackson Free Press and Mississippi Free Press state reporter Nick Judin, a Jackson, Miss., native, is now MFP’s first full-time investigative reporter and photojournalist. Photo courtesy Nick Judin

We are also excited that we’ve hired another of our long-time collaborators, another one who doesn’t feel like a new hire. Acacia Clark is our new part-time special projects assistant, working directly with Donna to support and coordinate grant-funded projects like the Youth Media Project, our solutions-circle series and a big Mississippi Free Press-Jackson Free Press website integration that is about to get under way with a beautiful new site coming this spring. Acacia has worked with us as a freelance photographer and has always been an incredible cheerleader for all things Free Press, and is super-organized.  She jumped right in this week, helping organize and provide on-site management of our second Jackson Solutions Circle last night. 

Finally, I’m thrilled to announce that Nick Judin is now our first full-time investigative reporter. Formerly our state reporter, he will travel Mississippi to do the kinds of in-depth investigative and explanatory journalism that has already piled up the awards for him, as well as beautiful photography along the way. Watch for his final ProPublica project from his year as part of its Local Reporting Network coming very soon. We are thrilled to have him back full-time and looking forward to more impactful journalism from him.

That reminds me: If you’re on the Gulf Coast, be sure to sign up to attend our first Biloxi solutions circle on March 5, supported by American Press Institute and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.  Be sure to sign up right now for more information on this circle, or to express interest in one wherever you live in the state. By the way, the next series will launch in the Delta, so we want to hear from you, too.

As you can see, the future is indeed bright for the Mississippi Free Press. We’re off to an incredible start in 2024.

Meet the whole MFP team here.

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