My first day at Mississippi Today — five years ago last month — I flipped an empty cardboard box upside down to use as a desk. There was no WiFi to connect my laptop to, and I had exactly three colleagues in a small office that smelled like fresh paint.
Workers came later that week to install desks and internet. A couple weeks later, two new colleagues joined the team. A couple weeks after that, our website went live and we unceremoniously published our first article. It was a humble beginning for what has become Mississippi’s largest newsroom.
What started in March 2016 as a staff of five has grown to 23 (we had to literally tear down a wall a couple years in to expand the newsroom). State capitol coverage was our main focus from the jump, but we now have reporters covering more than a dozen beats. We’re the only statewide newsroom with full-time reporters based in several regions of the state: the Jackson metro, the Delta, the North Mississippi Hills, and the Gulf Coast.
While many things have changed in five years, some of the most important things have not. From day one, our vision for Mississippi Today was anchored in three values: fairness, accountability and truth. I’m proud to say we’ve stuck to those values these past five years.
But if I’m being completely honest, it’s been difficult. In this ever-polarized political era, everyone has their own definitions of those three values. They have been bastardized by people on both ends of the political spectrum, and so-called “news outlets” and media personalities have used them to sow discord rather than inform. We’ve done our very best to report in a way that honors the actual definitions of those values, not just the way they’ve been weaponized for political purposes.
Readers on the political right sometimes criticize us for framing our journalism with a left-leaning bias. I can understand why they see it that way. After all, the fundamental mission of American journalism is to hold government officials accountable for their words and actions, and Republicans dominate nearly every pocket of government power in Mississippi.
Readers on the left, meanwhile, have criticized us for not doing more to directly bring about political change. I can understand how hopeless it must feel to have little platform in a state where there are few means to balance the scales.
But there’s common ground I know we can all stand on, regardless of the lens through which you read our reporting: Unchecked power is harmful to every Mississippian. That’s why we came together five years ago. We tell stories and share perspectives we believe to be true, and we hold officials — Republicans and Democrats — accountable. All the while, we focus our reporting on the experiences of Mississippians most marginalized by the decisions those powerful officials make.
We’re a group of native and adopted Mississippians who love this state and believe in its future. We’ve celebrated our state’s successes, and we’ve demanded more of its leaders. We’ve exposed government wrongdoing, and we’ve inspired change. We’ve seen our work improve lives, and we’ve pondered what more we can do to help. We’ve made mistakes, but we’re careful to learn and grow from them.
We’ve done some good work, but we want to do so much more in the next five years and the years after that. This is just the beginning of how we plan to serve Mississippians.
We want to continue hiring journalists to serve as watchdogs of our public officials. We want to find innovative ways to tell the stories of Mississippi’s ignored or forgotten citizens. We want to reach even more Mississippians and arm them with the information they need to become more civically engaged.
But we cannot do any of that without your support.
The generosity of so many people over the past five years has made our work possible. But what I tell people any chance I get is that we are not the beneficiaries of that generosity; Mississippians are.
We need you to help us continue to grow. Let’s all keep an eye on the future of Mississippi together.