The leader of conservative advocacy group Empower Mississippi is launching a new nonprofit news organization in 2023 — and will absorb the assets and work of conservative blog Y’all Politics.
Russ Latino, president of Empower, wrote in a Dec. 27 email to his friends and family that he will launch a new venture, called Magnolia Tribune, which was founded in response to “a significant gap in the current (media) marketplace.”
“Mississippi has a positive story to tell. We will tell it,” Latino wrote. “Faith in traditional media has been undermined by blatant bias and often by careless reporting of complex issues. We will work to restore trust.”
Leaders of the new organization have been developing the concept for months, pitching it to their allies across the political spectrum and in nonprofit circles since the fall. Latino, an attorney who previously worked for the Koch Brothers-funded conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, has never worked in professional journalism.
Latino has long served as a conservative voice at the Capitol and in Jackson. He has advocated for conservative causes at numerous press conferences at the Capitol over the years. In 2021, he was selected by Republican legislative leaders to testify at a hearing in favor of eliminating the individual income tax. He has also served as a fill-in host on SuperTalk Radio, a conservative network that broadcasts across the state.
On a webpage soliciting donations for the news outlet, Latino writes that Magnolia Tribune will be a “non-profit, non-partisan newsroom.” In his Tuesday email to colleagues, he writes that “our commentary will often appeal to conservatives.” Latino did not clarify in his email whether the newsroom will be a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit under IRS guidelines, which bar partisanship.
“The concept is to be an in-state Wall Street Journal, with reliable straight news, unique business and culture coverage, and thoughtful perspective,” Latino wrote to his friends on Tuesday. “Our goal will be to balance the media ecosystem to ensure that all points of view are heard. While our commentary will often appeal to conservatives, we will not shy from providing a platform for divergent viewpoints. We believe that people benefit from hearing the whole story and being able to make their own decisions with good information.”
The new outfit will absorb the assets and work of Y’all Politics, a political blog founded in 2004 by Alan Lange. Lange has boasted his cozy relationships with Republican elected officials, long amplifying their perspectives and even attacking traditional media in the state seen as too critical of his colleagues.
Y’all Politics employs a small staff of reporters who closely cover legislative sessions and major statewide political interest stories. Y’all Politics, Latino wrote on Tuesday, will cease operation in January 2023. While Y’all Politics staff will reportedly move over to the new organization, Lange has told people he’s close with that he will not be directly involved with Magnolia Tribune.
Empower Mississippi, which Latino said on Tuesday he will leave, actively lobbies lawmakers at the state Capitol for conservative causes and champions specific legislation. In recent years, Empower has pushed for increased funding for charter schools and other “school choice” initiatives, tax reforms like eliminating the individual income tax, and criminal justice reforms.
Latino said he is raising money for Magnolia Tribune and will build the team “over the next several months and beyond.”
“The news media serves a vital function in a thriving democracy,” Latino wrote on the fundraiser page. “When healthy, it informs citizens, presents a robust marketplace of diverse ideas, and holds leaders accountable. Unfortunately, upheaval in the media landscape has resulted in news that is often agenda-driven, intentionally negative, and hostile to alternate viewpoints. Mississippi is not immune from this trend. It doesn’t have to be this way, though.”
Clarification: This article has been updated to reflect that Russ Latino will leave Empower Mississippi to launch the Magnolia Tribune. “I formed it separately from Empower and am leaving Empower to run it. This is not an outgrowth, but a new venture,” Latino said.