2017 has been remarkable for Mississippi and for Mississippi Today. It is the 200th year of statehood, and it is the first full calendar year during which our reporters and editors have recounted current events in the state and shared the reasons and the repercussions with you, our readers.
Here are some of our most memorable moments this year in Mississippi:
• Mississippi Today’s story about a lawmaker’s refusal to take up a proposal adding domestic violence as a grounds for divorce in the state led to public outcry. Following widespread criticism, the Mississippi Legislature sought an alternative solution, which involved amending a separate bill to make it easier for domestic violence victims to leave their spouse.
• Our reporters broke the news of state Rep. Karl Oliver’s hate speech on Facebook, and closely followed the social media uproar which led to his denouncement by the state’s top elected officials. Calls for Oliver to resign came from many of his fellow legislators, as well as the Mississippi NAACP and Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus.
• Mississippi Today’s revelation of a little-known bill that would abolish the Mississippi Arts Commission created a firestorm of local activism supporting the granting and service agency. Several activist groups formed, including SAVE MAC. Continued coverage by Mississippi Today led to the bill’s death one week after the story was reported on our site.
• Our investigation into critical funding shortages at the state medical examiner’s office revealed that severe under-staffing in the morgue and crime lab are fueling a public safety crisis. Mississippi’s three medical examiners each performs between 500 and 600 autopsies a year, more than double the 250 that the National Association of Medical Examiners recommends. Over the last few years, a state crime lab staff has been whittled down from 120 to just 85, and the backlog of cases has exploded from basically zero to more than 3,000 reports. As a result, lawmakers are expected to address the problem in the 2018 legislative session.
• Mississippi Today reporters broke the state’s first story of sexual harassment by a lawmaker, obtaining critical background information from the Speaker of the House.
• The Mississippi Today series on millennial brain drain was heralded by business leaders, public officials and educators. Mississippi Today moderated a panel discussion on the topic in collaboration with the Mississippi Gulf Coast Business Council. A public forum on the topic was held in conjunction with Millsaps College.
At Mississippi Today, we look beyond the daily news for issues that have an impact on Mississippians:
• We took a deeper look at health care statewide, with a special focus on rural areas. Our series on the effort by local supervisors in Oktibbeha County to sell the sole local hospital brought statewide attention to the importance of maintaining community medical facilities. Subsequently, after a contentious campaign, voters in a referendum resolved to keep OCH Medical Center in county hands.
• A Mississippi Today investigation of the impacts of Mississippi’s largest ever tax cut shed light on the nuances of the bill. Our reports on the failure of a similar program in Kansas paired with the feedback of independent economists provided facts about the impacts the cuts would have on the state budget.
• In Fall 2017, Mississippi Today launched its inaugural multimedia project “Behind the Headlines,” featuring students, residents and administrators of the newly formed Cleveland Central High School and their reactions – in their own words—to the federally mandated school desegregation. The project incorporates documentary style photography and video interviews, and links to the ongoing series of reports about the desegregation process.
• Reporters wrote multiple stories on school funding in Mississippi, and provided an in-depth look at the development of charter schools around the state. We probed into the Mississippi Department of Education’s contracting procedures and helped readers navigate the landscape of an unprecedented partnership carving a new trajectory for the Jackson Public School system.
• Mississippi Today’s sports reporting may start with the score, but columnist Rick Cleveland also tells the heartwarming and heartbreaking stories of the men and women, boys and girls who play and coach the games. His series on brain injuries in football, specifically chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.) victims from Mississippi, included interviews with family members and follow-up reports on the debilitating disease. Cleveland was inducted to into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in August 2017 and was honored as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year for the 10th time by the National Sports Media Foundation.
• Mississippi Today Data was launched to give readers easy access to critical public information that the ordinary citizen likely has difficulty tracking down. #MSTodayData includes county-by-county searchable databases on the salaries of state officials, population change, income, unemployment and other information. The data page is regularly updated to reflect changes in statistical information.
• And we had some fun along the way. The Ultimate Mississippi Playlist, a bicentennial year celebration, features 25 songs ranging from classic to contemporary selected by our readers. The bi-monthly competition of favorite Mississippi tunes created an interactive forum for discussion on both our web site and on social media. The final playlist debuted on Mississippi Public Broadcasting Radio as a special edition of Next Stop Mississippi and is available as a podcast. The Ultimate Mississippi Playlist can be found on Mississippi Today’s Spotify channel.
You can read more about Mississippi Today’s year HERE.