The Backchannel

Credit: Photo Illustration by Zack Orsborn

Anna Wolfe, our poverty and investigative reporter, began publishing her investigative series “The Backchannel”, which revealed former Gov. Phil Bryant’s role in a sprawling welfare scandal. Each part of the series delved further into Bryant’s misuse and squandering of at least $77 million in federal funds meant to assist nearly 588,000 of the state’s poorest residents. 

Our reporting unearthed new evidence in the case and inspired top defendants facing state charges to tell the court about former Gov. Phil Bryant’s role in their misspending. Key players were brought to light, patterns of nepotism and coercion gained attention, and soon the proof became damning. The NAACP national president wrote a letter to the U.S. Attorney General demanding an investigation of Bryant based on our reporting, and Congressman Bennie Thompson says he will call for congressional hearings about the scandal. Anna’s stories have been cited in national publications, including USA Today, Sports Illustrated, MSN, and Fox News, and the State Auditor, Shad White, credited Anna’s reporting as “crucial to our investigation.” 

As of the week of July 25, the New York Times heartily cited Mississippi Today’s story breaking the news that the state had fired the attorney leading the MDHS investigation into the welfare fraud, and reporter Anna Wolfe was featured in an interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

Jackson Womens Health Organization staff escort a young woman away from shouting anti-abortion protesters in Jackson, Friday, June 24, 2022. After 50 years, the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Abortion Law

As the landscape of reproductive health care shifts under our feet, our team explains and adds context to the deliberations occurring at the highest levels of government. We work to hold our elected officials accountable and to ensure that our readers are always informed about the critical issues that affect their lives. Seven of our journalists covered the debate and SCOTUS deliberations last December as Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban went before the highest court in the nation. 

Now that SCOTUS has overturned Roe v. Wade, ending the constitutional right to abortion, our team is bringing you the latest. Will Stribling and Kate Royals are unpacking the consequences of recent court proceedings as Mississippi’s 2007 trigger law takes effect. Bobby Harrison and Isabelle Taft are speaking directly with Mississippians to ensure their voices are heard in the debate. And, as always, our team is ready to answer your questions. 

UMMC/Blue Cross Dispute

Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

The University of Mississippi Medical Center – the state’s largest hospital and only organ transplant center, children’s hospital, and academic medical center – went out of network on April 1 with Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi, the state’s largest insurer. This means thousands of Mississippians now face higher out-of-pocket costs for their health care, or they will be forced to leave the state for certain specialty care. You can sign up for The Pulse to stay up to date as this story unfolds.

A Trusted Source 

We are proud to be part of our state’s trusted community of reporters, championing coverage across beats to ensure that Mississippians are informed for generations to come. An April 2022 sample of local press showed that Mississippi Today had 65 stories shared across 22 local news organizations, helping to amplify voices that need to be heard and bolster the impact of local newsrooms.


A recent Pew Research Center study revealed that, nationally, nonprofit newsrooms have increased their number of devoted political investigators. Unfortunately, Mississippi is one of 16 states where the number of full-time statehouse reporters has suffered a 23.5% decrease since 2014. This loss puts access to the coverage Mississippians deserve at risk and could profoundly impact our state’s democratic processes and outcomes.  

This is, in part, why Mississippi Today launched our flagship non-profit newsroom six years ago. We proudly serve as a government watchdog for Mississippi and demand accountability from all of our leaders. Today, our capitol team makes up at least one-third of the full-time statehouse investigators in Mississippi. Devotion to this beat fuels our team’s ability to go above and beyond traditional news sources, ensuring we bring every detail to light when we report to you.

Politics and Elections

Our political reporters, Geoff Pender and Bobby Harrison, masterfully covered another legislative session. Their reporting at the Capitol was highly regarded and regularly republished by state and national outlets, as it helped shine some impactful light on legislation and the legislative process. Additionally, our Legislative Guide gave readers the resources needed to navigate everything from the law making procedures to the key players and issues at hand, providing Mississippians with the facts to make informed decisions when voting.


Credit: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today

Mississippi relies on reporters to reveal what happens behind closed doors and hold key players accountable – at Mississippi Today, we do just that. We monitored the balance of power with officials, such as Attorney General Lynn Fitch. We exposed legislators’ efforts to dilute Black votes. We analyzed pending laws, like the potential trigger law that would rescind the right to gay marriage. And we ensured transparency of government funding, diving into how much federal funding was used to battle COVID-19 in communities of color. The fight for justice goes beyond the legislative season and is documented by our investigators who spare no effort when reporting to you. 

Teresa Jones (left) and Britanny Murphere, on the south steps of the Khayat Law Center, discussing points of view regarding the the Critical Race Theory course both take at Ole Miss, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today


With so many changes in the education system – from uncertain COVID regulations to debates on educational programming – our reporters had their hands full. They covered every story impacting our teachers, like the long awaited increase in pay, the critical race theory bill, and proposed changes to the tenure award process across Mississippi public universities. Our coverage was so valued that our higher education reporter, Molly Minta, 1) was featured in a Northwestern-Medill Local News Initiative story about reporter-sharing among news organizations, 2) inspired two national organizations that advocate for free speech in higher education, including PEN America, to write a letter to the Higher Education Board of Trustees (IHL), 3) had her stories referenced in national publications, including The Washington Post, and 4). was featured in a five minute segment on MSNBC to discuss her reporting on critical race theory. 


Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

We believe access to healthcare is vital for Mississippians and aim to deliver the most complete stories possible. Our health team brings you the latest — continuing to report on the aforementioned UMMC/Blue Cross insurance dispute, covering the debates surrounding expanding Medicaid coverage, and providing a trusted source for information as legislation around abortion law takes shape. Our health team is always on the know, untangling complex stories to keep you and your family safe, healthy, and informed.


As the pandemic brought about an influx of confusing and confounding data across news outlets and platforms, Mississippi Today worked diligently to provide easily-digestible information. Alyssa Bass and Alex Rozier updated testing, infection and mortality statistics by county and by demographic. Our vaccine guide outlined everything you needed to know to navigate the pandemic, including updates on vaccine requirements and rollouts, school closures and regulations, mask mandates, and more. It also provided how and where you can get vaccinated in Mississippi, along with thoughtful and straightforward answers to your most frequently asked questions. 

In addition, Mississippi Today offered broad COVID coverage to ensure transparency and accountability from our government, including investigations into nursing shortages in hospitals, the conditions for those in correctional facilities, the discrimination seen within our health care system, and more. Our COVID data and reporting are still widely read and cited by national outlets, including: Politico, The New York Times, MSNBC, The Washington Post, and Apple News. 


Rick Cleveland has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016 and has over half a century of experience covering Magnolia State sports. From his Mississippi-centric columns to his weekly podcast Crooked Letter Sports with his son, Tyler Cleveland, Rick gives our readers an inside look on how and why sports are such an integral part of Mississippi society. This past college baseball season was a prime example. The Ole Miss Rebels seemed to be running on empty in mid-May with an SEC record of 7-14 when Rick wrote a piece proclaiming Ole Miss a team that could still play its way into the College World Series and make a national championship run. Then, Rick was on the scene in Omaha for every game when the Rebels defied all odds and won the national championship.


If you’re on the go, have your hands full, or just prefer hearing stories straight from your favorite reporters, our podcasts are for you! We cover politics on The Other Side, sports on Crooked Letter Sports, and a little bit of everything on Mississippi Stories with Marshall Ramsey. Join the more than 55,000  listeners who have tuned in so far in 2022 to keep up to date on the latest news in these areas.    


Images can create a powerful emotional response to the news and help us interpret complex stories with nuance that cannot always be captured through other mediums. Marshall Ramsey, our beloved editorial cartoonist and editor-at-large, masterfully provides context and wit for Mississippi Today’s stories and across our beats. Marshall’s cartoons provide readers with levity and sharp wit, making his daily cartoons, weekly newsletter and live interviews consistent fan favorites. 


As of June 2022, Mississippi Today page views were up almost 52% over 2021, with a goal of 50% total readership growth by year’s end. We’ve averaged more than 286,000 monthly users and almost 800,000 page views a month; more than half of the people who visit Mississippi Today return to our site. We consider this loyalty metric as one of the key performance indicators of our newsroom’s impact. The more ingrained we are in the news habits of Mississippians, the more informed our state becomes. The more informed our state becomes, the better it can be represented at the polls, in school board meetings, and in policy at the statehouse. 

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(18.19% increase YTD)

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We hold our community’s opinion in high regard and want to hear from you. As part of our reporting, we try to create space for our readers to easily ask us questions, give feedback, and offer news tips as stories arise. To date, our team has completed three different audience surveys. The first — an Informed Mississipians survey that ran below all of their legislative and government stories — received more than 1,300 responses. This data gave us insight on readers’ needs and led to the creation of our first legislative directory.  As our audience development director, Lauchlin Fields, said in a feature case study by the Local Media Association, “Audience-specific surveys give us a better understanding of our readers’ needs, which allows us to respond through the products and resources we create.” 


Our vision to expand the Mississippi Today newsroom is coming to fruition this year. We will be launching Deep South Today, a network of newsrooms serving the most challenged regions in the United States, beginning with New Orleans and expanding to Montgomery, Nashville, and Little Rock. The newsrooms will cater to the needs of their populations rather than focusing on single-issue or national news. Each newsroom will be asking and answering, “What do people need to know about this region or place? Why does the South matter, and what are the possibilities for its future?”

More than 40,000 readers receive Mississippi Today news directly to their inbox, 23,000 over industry average (17,000), with the goal of reaching 55,000 by 2023. 6% percent of email subscribers are Mississippi Today member-donors (industry average is 6% percent), with a goal of raising $500,000 in membership revenue by 2023.