Part I of our series on Mimmo Parisi and his state-funded research center NSPARC revealed the inner workings of how policy makers use “alternative data” to minimize some of the state’s biggest problems in the interest of PR. Business leaders, academics and political insiders — many too fearful to speak on-record — have discussed this dilemma for years, but the story had never before been broached in the media. Part II explained how Parisi, an Italian-born sociology professor, was appointed in his home country to a cabinet level position to run Italy’s public employment office, all while he maintains leadership and membership roles in state government boards tasked with drafting state policy.
Mississippians from multiple sectors wrote to us to express the “open secret” nature of NSPARC’s data manipulation and a University of Missouri graduate student is now using the series as a case study in investigative journalism. The second installment of this investigative series was translated to Italian and published by investigative online news publication Linkiesta.
Rooted in a data set compiled by ProPublica, our story on why one Mississippi county is the most heavily audited in the nation revealed the minefield of financial issues faced by people living in rural poverty. In examining the state’s response to poverty in a deep dive published the following week, Mississippi Today found the state spends millions of its welfare budget on college scholarships for middle class families who would not otherwise qualify for the program.
Data visualizations accompany many of our deep dive reports and hold a stand-alone section on the Mississippi Today website. The work of our data visuals team can now be found daily in The Today newsletter. The “Data Dive” offers information that may not have a good fit in a feature story but still provides context to the issue at large.
Mississippi Today boasts the largest capitol press team in the state, with five seasoned reporters working from the statehouse during the legislative session. Our team reported on the nuances in pay raises for state employees, particularly public school teachers, and provided extensive coverage of the outcry over a $2 million increase in the school voucher program. Our overall reporting on the significant budget cuts that have occurred in recent years provided an impetus for legislators to try to ensure those cuts did not take place this year.
A complete listing of candidates running for office in 2019 can be found on MississippiToday.org, and continues to be one of the most visited story posts on our site. Two Mississippi Today reporters traveled to Washington, D.C. in January, offering profiles on Mississippi legislators that have long gone untold.
From reports on candidates themselves, to stories on gerrymandering and voter awareness, 2019 is proving to be fertile ground as Mississippi Today reporters cover one of the largest statewide election years in recent history. Our team is covering local elections with the same vigor as visits from 2020 presidential candidates, with a one-of-a-kind voters guide currently in development.
The addition of a justice reporter in 2018 expanded our coverage of Mississippi’s prisons, criminal justice systems and reform efforts. Our reporting on prison deaths in Mississippi has received national attention, while our coverage of the bipartisan 2019 prison reform bill helped shape conversation about what work remains to reduce the state’s high rate of incarceration.
Women and girls are a special focus of Mississippi Today’s health reporting in 2019. This collaborative report with WLTB-TV, the Jackson, Miss.-based NBC affiliate, exposed the high rate of misconduct among licensed medical doctors and provided stand-alone data visuals and video interview that generated impact among Mississippi Today readers and a broader broadcast audience around patient rights.
Even before the first story published in our Teacher Shortage Series, we started to see the influence of a curious press. Our reporters began requesting data on teacher shortages from the Mississippi Department of Education in spring 2018 and, shortly thereafter, began to see MDE take action to address this chronic shortage – hiring a full-time staffer devoted to teacher recruitment and retention, creating a task force to examine recruitment and retention tactics, and offering free workshops and developing pilot programs to help certify more teachers. The series (which published in February 2019 after nearly a year of reporting) proved to have great influence in the education community, and has been central to several public meetings in the Mississippi Delta where our reporters convened citizens to dig deeper into the issue.
As of April 29, 2019, Mississippi Today page views were up almost 150% over 2018, with a goal of 25% total readership growth by year’s end.
Page Views: 293,000 (98% increase YTD)
Sessions: 209,000 (80% increase YTD)
New Users: 108,000 (50% increase YTD)
(YTD data N/A)
(increase of 2,700 YTD)
(YTD data N/A)
The Mississippi Today engagement team brings together staff from the editorial and marketing departments of our nonprofit newsroom for the shared goal of creating the ultimate reader experience. The engagement team launched Mississippi Today’s new branding in February, as well as a suite of newsletters that offer easy entry into our reporting as well as newsletter-only exclusives. The team is responsible for the enhanced story presentation of our enterprise features, as well as coordination of social media strategy and online forums.
Mississippi Today #publicnewsroom events continue to be at the center of the solutions-focused journalism of our Delta Bureau, which now hosts monthly gatherings. After each in-person event, the team provides resource sheets for attendees, answering questions that are raised during the #publicnewsroom.