Mississippi Today Managing Editor Kayleigh Skinner, with a panel of young community leaders, discusses current issues plaguing the city and legislative responses to those issues at Urban Foxes in Jackson on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

My first day of work at Mississippi Today was the first day of the 2017 legislative session. At the time, the organization was mere months old, and it seemed like in those early days I spent more time explaining who we were than conducting interviews.

The organization was founded in 2016 to fill a hole in news coverage. As Mississippi newspapers were forced to cut back staff and printing days, it also meant fewer reporters at the state Capitol, where life-altering legislation was crafted and passed into law. Often, this occurred without much media coverage because of the constraints and limited resources newspapers faced. 

Our goal back then was (and still is) to provide the citizens of the state with news and information about the goings-on at the Legislature, where elected officials made decisions that affect daily life without much oversight. We wanted to place more accountability on lawmakers and government officials and critically examine how they were, or weren’t, serving voters.

We flooded readers with updates on where bills stood in the legislative process, and as a result our profile and readership grew with politicos and people passionate about politics and policy. That wasn’t enough — we wanted our journalism to be appealing to people who don’t have time to sit through school board meetings or attend budget hearings. 

Over the past few years, we’ve done a lot of reflection on our stories and discussed how we can be better. We’ve taken a critical look at whose voices our journalism elevated and are still working to diversify that. 

I’m proud of the work we’ve produced this year alone, closely covering the state’s decision to ban gender-affirming care for minors from the perspective of families and health care providers. When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Dobbs, we thoughtfully covered the repercussions with details no one else was reporting

I could go on, but my point is that I’m so proud of the journalism this newsroom has produced as we’ve continued to grow and mature as an organization. 

It’s time for me to grow, too. After nearly seven years, I’m leaving Mississippi Today to join another nonprofit news organization, where I’ll have the chance to work with newsrooms across the country and help them cover issues of race and equity in higher education. 

The decision is a bittersweet one. Mississippi Today is where I’ve grown up as a journalist, starting as a legislative and education reporter and working my way up to become its first female managing editor. The journey has been, frankly, exhilarating and at times exhausting. I’ve had the opportunity to serve in a leadership role in the state’s flagship nonprofit newsroom during some of the most historic and transformative moments in recent Mississippi history. 

When COVID-19 ravaged Mississippi at rates higher than almost anywhere else in the world, I struggled with our editor-in-chief to decide how and whether we should send reporters into the field at a time when the spread of the disease was incredibly high, but the need for information and reporting from the state’s hospitals and vaccination sites was critical. 

As lawmakers debated changing the state flag featuring the Confederate battle emblem, I and other staffers worked around the clock. We literally chased down lawmakers in Capitol hallways to get them on the record about their position, all while fielding numerous very passionate and often critical emails, phone calls and even hand-written letters from readers about our coverage and the merits of changing the flag.

I’ve taken my role and the responsibility that comes with it seriously and, I hope, made decisions and changes that make this place a good one to work in. Whoever takes this position next has the opportunity to join a newsroom filled with people who care deeply about Mississippi and want to help make it a better place through quality accountability journalism.

These days, when our reporters make calls and do interviews, there’s a lot less explaining about who we are and what we do. That’s a testament to the work we’ve put in over seven years to become a news organization that writes for Mississippians, not just about them.

Mississippi Today has room to grow and audiences to reach, but I know I’ll keep reading. I hope you will, too.

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Kayleigh Skinner joined the Mississippi Today team in January 2017 as an education and legislative reporter and advanced to a senior staff member in her four years with the company. Before joining Mississippi Today, Kayleigh worked at The Hechinger Report, Chalkbeat Tennessee, and The Commercial Appeal. She has appeared on MSNBC, NPR, and BBC Newsday Radio to discuss her reporting.