Mississippi Today investigative reporter Anna Wolfe has won the Nellie Bly Award for Investigative Reporting for her tenacious series “The Backchannel.”

Wolfe’s series unearthed new evidence about former Gov. Phil Bryant’s role in the state’s massive welfare scandal, inspiring multiple court defendants to come forward with allegations against Bryant or publicly insist Bryant be held accountable. The series also exposed key new players in the scandal like former NFL quarterback Brett Favre, patterns of political nepotism and coercion, and damning proof that powerful figures kept millions from people who needed it most. 

The findings of the series inspired legislative and congressional hearings, and a federal investigation into the misspending continues.

“I started reporting on Mississippi’s welfare system with a simple but often overlooked question: What is the poorest, yet most federally funded state in the nation doing to solve poverty? Who knew getting the answer would require the very kind of innovative, dogged and brave reporting that Nellie Bly championed. I’m certainly honored to receive this award in her name,” offered Wolfe.

READ MORE: Mississippi Today’s complete “The Backchannel” series

Founded in 2017, the Nellie Bly Award honors the legacy of the pioneering 19th century reporter who dedicated her career to exposing social injustice. Wolfe is the 7th annual recipient of the award. The award is announced annually on May 5th in commemoration of Nellie Bly’s birthday and is presented by the Albany, N.Y.-based Museum of Political Corruption (MPC). 

“By focusing on corruption and poverty, Anna seeks justice and gives a voice to her community’s most vulnerable,” said MPC President Bruce Roter. “Her tenacious reporting informs and empowers the public — it carries on Nellie Bly’s tremendous legacy.”

Wolfe is the recipient of numerous awards, including two Goldsmith Prizes for Investigative Reporting, the Collier Prize for State Government Accountability, the John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting Award, the Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award, the Sidney Award, and the National Press Foundation’s Poverty and Inequality Award.

“Anna more than deserves this recognition,” said Mississippi Today editor-in-chief Adam Ganucheau. “Most people now know the jaw-dropping breadth of corruption she uncovered, but what people may not necessarily know is the heart and energy she put into this reporting. She’s always centered the people who were cheated out of these federal funds — Mississippians who truly needed and were entitled to help — and she let their stories guide her reporting toward the wrongdoing. Anna has poured more than five years of difficult, emotionally draining work into this project, and all Mississippians are better informed and better off because of it.”

Jerry Mitchell, director of the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting at Mississippi Today, received the “Nellie” award in 2022 for his reporting on corruption and abuse of power. The Museum of Political Corruption is a 510(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan institution dedicated to educating and empowering the public by providing a better understanding of corruption and encouraging solutions that promote ethics reform and honest governance. The selection committee for the 2023 Nellie Bly Award included MPC Founder and President Bruce Roter, Trustee Karol Kamin, Chair and MPC advisory board members Morgan Pehme and Charles Lewis, and outside advisors Rex Smith, former Editor of the Albany Times Union, and Marc Jacob, former Metro Editor at the Chicago Tribune and Sunday Editor at the Chicago Sun-Times.

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