In order to truly serve the state of Mississippi, we have to have an audience that reflects the state as a whole. Through Mississippi Today Listens, our new community listening program, we are addressing an issue that has plagued newsrooms across the country for decades: How to best report for the everyday reader and not just about them.

“MT Listens is a new initiative to connect with community leaders and reach people we might not otherwise be able to reach. By connecting and listening, we can uncover stories that Mississippians want and need to live more fulfilled and informed lives,” said Lauchlin Fields, Mississippi Today’s Audience Development Director.

At Mississippi Today, our path to amplifying the variety of voices in Mississippi began with making diversity our North Star, a unifying goal for the entire team. We’ve built a cross-departmental committee tasked with examining how we cover stories and how our journalism could better reflect the state. We’re creating space for meaningful conversations about race and gender within the organization.

In October 2020, we published a story announcing our commitment to put diversity at the center of our news and published the results of our first source audit. We also announced the Mississippi Today Community Ambassadors Program, an initiative to build a network of Mississippians from every corner of the state to help guide our journalism. Our ambassadors have teamed up with reporters and helped us get to know readers and their communities better.

“We can’t expect readers to trust us if they don’t see themselves reflected in the stories we tell,” said Kayleigh Skinner, managing editor at Mississippi Today. “Our hope with MT Listens is to create a model where our reporters and staff can establish meaningful connections with people from different backgrounds and lived experiences. We want to hear directly from them what’s going on in their communities, and what they think should be covered.”

One of our community listening signs on the Canton Square

Through MT Listens, we are doubling down on our commitment to build a more diverse readership by targeting five specific communities across Mississippi — Canton, Yazoo City, Forest, Moss Point and New Albany — where we will ask community members what matters most to them. We will listen. We will be present in each community, and what we hear and learn will lead to action — creating content that matters to all Mississippians.

“At the center of our nonprofit mission is public service, and the best way for our newsroom to be of service to Mississippians is by listening first and reporting later,” said Mississippi Today CEO Mary Margaret White. “This program takes out the transactional relationship that so often takes place between reporters and sources. MT Listens, instead, provides a channel for continuous conversation, feedback and learning.”

Our work is just beginning. We are eager to get into these communities — to listen, to learn and to respond. We want our readers to follow us on this journey and help us dig deep. As we get into these communities, we’ll share our updates here and on our social media channels. We plan to use community listening as a tool to continue the work our organization was founded on — to hold those in power accountable — all while amplifying the voices of diverse Mississippians.

If you live in Canton, Yazoo City, Forest, Moss Point or New Albany, please take a minute to fill out the below survey, or share it with someone you know.

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