Mississippi Today’s Editor-in-Chief Adam Ganucheau discusses the newsroom’s latest project to dig into why young people are leaving Mississippi in droves or are stuck here wanting to leave. He joined WJTV’s Byron Brown on their Sunday political show “Mississippi Insight” to explain the rationale behind the new project.
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Read the full transcript for this episode:
Adam Ganucheau: [00:00:00] Welcome to The Other Side, Mississippi Today’s political podcast. I’m your host, Adam Ganucheau. The Other Side lets you hear directly from the most connected players and observers across the spectrum of politics and Mississippi. This week, we’re dedicating our episode to an exciting new project that we’ve recently launched.
[00:00:25] It’s called NextGen Mississippi, and it’s centered around one of our state’s biggest problems. Young people are either leaving the state in droves for various reasons. Or, they’re stuck here wanting to leave. A month ago, we learned that Mississippi was one of just three us states to lose population over the past 10 years.
[00:00:41] Only twice before had Mississippi lost residents during a 10-year span. Those years were 1920 and 1960. And, now, of course we can add 2020 to that list. More and more other states reaped the benefits of our minds, our energy and our passion. Meanwhile, Mississippi can’t get off the bottom in so many categories.
[00:01:00] It’s a tragic cycle that certainly isn’t limited to just our young people, but as a member myself of the next largest generation of Mississippi’s workers, voters and citizens, it’s become a little bit too hard to stomach. So, on May 25th, we launched this long-term reporting project called NextGen Mississippi.
[00:01:15] We’re hiring a full-time reporter for this, and we’re committing much of our existing newsroom’s energy to several things. First, we want to clearly define the problem, working to answer questions like, How many young people are leaving? Why are they leaving? What could convince them to stay? Why have so many young people stayed and what are they doing and what are they sacrificing?
[00:01:34] What more can we do for all of them? Next, we want to examine the implications of the problem, answering questions like what does this increasing Exodus of young Mississippians actually mean for Mississippi? What about for the states that they’re settling in? What are we missing out on because of it? How is our state’s future effected by the problem?
[00:01:52] Finally, we want to engage Mississippians — everyone from the people afflicted by the problem to our elected officials who have the responsibility to do something about it. We want to hear from anyone and everyone about how we can together keep more of our young people at home and create a better future for our state all the while we’ll make a concerted effort to regularly showcase the great things that so many young Mississippians are up to here.
[00:02:15] That’s as big a part of this story as anything. Last week, I was invited to talk more about this project on WJ TV, a local TV station here in Jackson that we regularly partner with. I want to play that interview now, which I think will give a bit more insight into what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.
[00:02:31] But, before I play that, I want to tell you how you can get involved. Go to our website, mississippitoday.org, and at the top of the page, you’ll see a link that says NextGen Mississippi. There, you’ll find a survey that will ask you some basic questions about this problem. We’ll then take a close look at what you write, and that’s going to really help us inform our reporting in the coming weeks and months.
[00:02:51] We won’t use any of your information publicly, unless you give us the permission to do so. And also you can follow along our regular weekly coverage, and please share with your friends and on social media. Thanks for listening. And thank you so much for engaging with us on this project. Now here’s my interview with Byron brown at WJ TV.
[00:03:10] Today’s Adam Ganucheau joins us to talk about an ambitious reporting project designed to answer those questions. Also, Carla Lewis, CSpire’s chief technology officer joins us. She’ll explain why her company went all in with support for the new computer science and cyber education equality act. To set the stage for our first interview…
[00:03:31] I want to read a passage from our partners at mississippitoday.org: “More and more other states reap the benefits of our minds, our energy, our passion. Meanwhile, Mississippi can get off the bottom as a tragic cycle that certainly isn’t limited to just our young people, but as a member myself of the next large generation of Mississippi’s workers, voters, and citizens, it’s become too hard to stomach.”
[00:03:55] That passage is part of a column introducing Mississippi Today’s NextGen Mississippi. It’s a wide ranging reporting project just launched this week. It will explore the longterm impact of migration away from the Magnolia state. The man who wrote that passage joins us now this morning by Zoom. Adam Ganucheau is editor in chief of mississippitoday.org.
[00:04:15] And, he’s one of the lead authors of this project. Adam, welcome back to Mississippi Insight. Thanks for having me, Byron, excited to be here. Explain for us what NextGen Mississippi aims to accomplish and why it is so important for you and your news team. Yeah. So, I’m a 29-year-old native Mississippian. All my life I’ve thought about — I’ve heard these points brought up — you know, “As soon as soon as we can, we’re getting outta here.”
[00:04:41] You know, if you’re a young person in Mississippi, I know that you’ve heard that, you’ve been around that, you’ve been exposed to it all your life. Even if you’re not a young person in Mississippi, this is something that we all know. It’s one of the biggest problems facing our state — our young people either are running from Mississippi as fast as they can, or they want to. That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of people, certainly like myself who want to be here, who are doing good work and trying to make a difference.
[00:05:10] But, at the end of the day, we know that we are not in the majority. We were kind of thinking about that problem, looking at the scope of it. Mississippi Today, when we launched, a little more than five years ago, we’ve kind of our bread and butter has been focusing on the state Legislature.
[00:05:26] You know, these, these policy leaders, these elected officials who have the ability to help solve any problem that the state faces. And this has been a big one. And, uh, Tom, and again, we’ve just, we’ve continued to see, uh, either, you know, little or no movement, uh, to try to help curb this problem more often than not, we we’ve experienced and covered the fact that.
[00:05:46] Our leaders don’t even acknowledge the problem, let alone do anything about it. So, uh, you know, we, we just kind of felt this responsibility, this obligation to ask these questions, to help people, uh, understand the real scope of the problem first and foremost, to help Mississippians understand why, like, how this is affecting our state and why this is a problem for us in the future.
[00:06:08] And, then to engage people, to really bring them into the fold, have them connect with us, have us connect with them and talk about how we all together can try to make these things better. So, that’s sort of the Genesis of NextGen Mississippi. It’s something we’re really excited about. And, again, it just stems from this understanding, no matter who you are, if you’re a Mississippian, you know this is an issue, this is a problem that we have to address.
[00:06:33] And, unfortunately, there hasn’t been enough focus placed on it. Well, we mentioned at the top of the program that Mississippi is only one of three states to lose population, according to the last month’s data, released from the U.S. Census. When you factor in births, deaths and people moving in and out of the safe, we lost 6,018 people between 2010 and 2020.
[00:06:52] What does your research indicate about who’s leaving the state and why? Yeah. So, first off, the Census data, this 10 year Census data, we don’t have a lot of specifics yet. That’s coming later this year. We’re going to be able to really drill into who the people are who live here, who left, what their backgrounds are, their education levels, racism, you name the demographics.
[00:07:14] We’re going to be able to drill into that a little bit more specifically, but based on some of the annual update the Census Bureau puts out there called American Community Surveys, we can sort of lean a little bit from just those. And, those certainly aren’t as comprehensive as these 10-year Census numbers will be later this year, but we can tell that the people who are leaving Mississippi are younger, or, you know, age 35 or 40 or younger, in most cases. They have higher levels of education attainment.
[00:07:44] And, certainly there are a lot of factors that go into all of this. That’s not a blanket statement. There are a lot of different Mississippians and a lot of different backgrounds and experiences who are leaving the state. When you’re lumping groups together and trying to assess some trends in the data, that’s what we’re seeing.
[00:08:01] So trending younger people, regardless of race or region of the state and trending toward that higher level of education attainment. So, that’s part of the issue, but another thing that we want to look at Byron, and I’m really curious to get the rest of this data back later this year, is take a look at some of the older generations who are leaving, as well.
[00:08:22] We, of course, know that depending on what region of the state you’re thinking about or talking or looking at, we have some communities across the state that are attractive for retirement. We have some communities across the state where we know we can see in the data already that even older people are flocking.
[00:08:38] They’re leaving those communities. And in many cases, leaving the state. So generally speaking, we’re really kind of counting down the days until we get that data. We’re not sure exactly when the Census Bureau is going to give that to us, but sometime. Probably this fall, maybe early winter or at the end of the year.
[00:08:53] But, like I said, the big trends we’re seeing — young people and educated people are leaving the quickest in Mississippi. Let’s look at a map that your team published for this project. Here, here, our viewers can see each county colored in different shades of blue and light green, the darkest colors in places such as Rankin county, Madison County, the Gulf Coast, and other denser populated centers show population growth, but the lighter colors are the Delta and other river counties over in East Mississippi and a lot of thePine Belt, uh, point to big population decline since 2010. What can you tell us about the geographical component in these populations? Yeah. So first off, I’d say, look at the job growth and economic development. The counties that you’re seeing there that have actually gained population over the years.
[00:09:38] Some of those more extreme ones like Desoto, Madison, Rankin, Lafayette, Oktibbeha and all those coastal counties, there’s been a huge focus by state leaders on creating jobs and boosting economic development in those places. I think no matter who you are, no matter where you come from, the number one factor for whether or not you want to stay or leave Mississippi has everything to do with the economy.
[00:10:02] There are other factors at play, of course, but as we’ve sort of been digging into these numbers, as we’ve been interviewing and collecting data from thousands of Mississippians the past few weeks, this is the number one issue I’d say across the board for most everyone. So, looking at economic development, but then also look at education.
[00:10:19] So yeah, Oktibbeha and Lafayette counties of course those are big college/ university towns. Now, you know, you look at some of the other sort of growing in population counties across the state — they have good public school systems, K through 12 public school systems. They have great community colleges or junior colleges where people can earn post-secondary degrees that aren’t those four years.
[00:10:43] And then, of course, where all those four year universities are, you’re seeing some growth there as well. What do these folks have to say about leaving or staying in the state? Yeah. So probably the thing that I’m most excited about with this project is that we are doing that direct outreach to Mississippi.
[00:10:58] You know, as best as COVID restrictions and travels sort of pandemic-related issues will allow u, we’re on the ground. We’re talking to the vehicle. We also released this pretty comprehensive survey on our website through the NextGen Mississippi brand that allows anyone in Mississippi or outside of Mississippi who left to come in and tell us a little bit about themselves and answer some questions — like why did you leave or why did you stay? If you stayed, what more do you need from state leaders? If you left, what might attract you to come back? You know, talking about issues about like the future of Mississippi, as it relates to the future of the City of Jackson. Do you think Mississippi needs an urban center in Jackson, the Capitol city, a metropolitan area of Jackson that has to thrive for the whole state of thrive. We’re trying to dig into a lot of these specific questions. And, like I said, we’ve been reaching out directly to Mississippians or former Mississippians who left about those very things. So we put out the survey, Byron, and we’re up to over 1,000 responses now. We’re really excited about that. It’s been a great, great response so far and in just a few days time, and we need more of that. So if you’re watching this, if you’re interested, go to our website, mississippitoday.org, and at the top of the website, you’ll see a link there that says NexGen, Mississippi, click on that and find the survey. But just looking through those survey responses, Byron, and as a native Mississippi, and again, who I’ve been, like I said, dealing with these issues my entire life, I’ve been thinking through them.
[00:12:27] Reading these responses from people — these, you know, hundreds of Mississippians who are either here or have left — has been pretty emotional. You know, I think I wrote when we announced this project, this isn’t about me. This isn’t about us at Mississippi Today, the reporters in the building. But, it is personal, it’s personal in a way that is personal to every Mississippian.
[00:12:48] And, you know, we miss our friends. We miss our family members who left. For those of us who stayed, we understand that there are such great things about the state and we love it. But we also understand that there are a lot of things that need to get better and need to improve. And, you know, I think, at the end of the day, that’s the shared experience of every Mississippian, whether they stayed or left, and and reading through these responses, it’s just been an emotional thing.
[00:13:11] This is something that we all should care about so much. And, this is our future that we’re talking about. And it’s been really, I think, rewarding already to see these responses. But, if you’re watching this, please get involved. Go fill out that survey. Those responses they remain anonymous unless you tell us otherwise.
[00:13:29] But, regardless of whether you want to stay anonymous or not, it helps inform our reporting in the days and weeks to come. And the more, the better. The more experiences and perspectives that we can see and share, the better it will be for everyone.
And, you also reached out to state leaders about their perspectives on the brain drain, but you didn’t have a lot of luck getting many responses, I understand. Is that correct? That’s right. You know, myself and Candace McKenzie, who’s kind of this young reporter who herself, she’s a native Mississippi, and she just graduated from college at Millsaps College. She’s our lead reporter on this project. And, you know, the two of us sat down as we were thinking through the launch and the rollout of this project.
[00:14:09] And one thing that we couldn’t stop thinking about was that we got these Census numbers a little more than a month ago. Now, the numbers that we just talked about that showed that we were one of three states in the country to lose population — only three. We were just talking about that and, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that our state leaders have been largely silent about it. If this is indeed one of the state’s biggest problems, it just is striking that so many of these top state leaders haven’t even acknowledged that the problem exists —let alone offer up solutions to it.
[00:14:42] So what we did, what we wanted to do was was if they’re not going to talk about it themselves, which is disappointing and unfortunate, we’ll ask them, you know, that’s, kind of why we exist in this journalism world. You know, we want to be the eyes and the ears of the public who don’t have access to these elected officials.
[00:14:59] And, oftentimes, we can ask the questions that need to be asked. So we reached out to the state’s top three policymakers that would, of course be Gov. Tate, Reeves, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and House Speaker Philip Gunn.You know, these three men together collectively have as much power, the power needed to pass any policy they want to — really sort of implement some agendas and ideas to fix this problem, or to say, at least start fixing this problem. We asked several times for comment from all three of them, and we only heard back from one, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, and his statement was, you know, it talks about the importance of focusing on the core sort of policies of infrastructure, healthcare, and education, public education.
[00:15:41] That’s good. That’s certainly needed. And we were happy to hear back from him, but it was disappointing, to say the least, to not hear back at all from Gov. Reeves or Speaker Gunn. And, then, in that same piece, we kind of further contextualize this and talked about how underrepresented young people in Mississippi are in state government of the eight statewide elected officials.
[00:16:00] Just one of them is a Millennial or younger, you know. In the 174 member of legislature in 2019, we had fewer than a dozen members of the Legislature of those 174 who are Millennials or younger. So, you know, you talk about solutions to the problem or setting agendas, or even just throwing out some ideas.
[00:16:20] The problem, what we’ve seen, unfortunately, is, a state leadership that just hasn’t been engaged. They haven’t wanted to engage, seemingly, in helping address this and that was a big Genesis — the big reason for why we wanted to start this project. Adam Ganucheau of mississippitoday.org. Thank you for joining us.
[00:16:38] Thanks so much, Byron.
[00:16:46] Thanks again to Byron Brown at WJTV for giving me the chance to talk about that hope that helps everyone understand why we’re doing this and what exactly we’re trying to accomplish. Before we go, I just want to kind of reiterate how y’all can get involved, because we really want you to. Go to our website, mississippitoday.org. At the top of the site, you’ll see a tab that says NextGen Mississippi.
[00:17:07] When you get to that page, you’ll see a link on that page pretty high up to a survey that we’ve put out. We asked a lot of questions about a lot of these things that we’ve just been discussing on this podcast episode. So, fill that out. It’s really going to help us to see your answers and help inform our reporting in the coming weeks and months.
[00:17:25] And, of course, we won’t use any of your information publicly, unless you tell us that we can do so. Other than that, just stay engaged. Keep following Mississippi Today. In every one of our NextGen Mississippi stories, you’ll see a link to our newsletter for the NextGen Mississippi coverage.
[00:17:40] That’ll keep you up to date pretty regularly about what we’ve been writing and what we’ve been up to. And, as always, share what you see if you like it with your friends and on your social media pages, but otherwise, thank you so much for listening. Thanks for taking the time. And thanks for engaging with us.
[00:17:54] Hope you have a great week
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