Longtime Mississippi Today reporter Larrison Campbell was denied access to a ride along with GOP Gubernatorial candidate Rep. Robert Foster because of gender. Campbell’s first person account of being denied access and the inherint sexism of the Foster campaign’s “weird request” quickly made national headlines, with Foster responding via social media that he and his wife are committed to the “Billy Graham rule” which prevents either from being alone with a member of the opposite sex. The story catalyzed a spectrum of reader responses ranging from outrage at Foster’s sexism to praise for his dedication to Christian values. Moreover, the story demonstrates the inherent hurdles facing women reporters, particularly those covering politics, and sparked a national conversation about sexism in the workplace. Many of Mississippi Today’s female journalists joined Campbell on a special episode of The Other Side podcast to discuss their experiences and the data behind gender inequality in journalism. Less than a week after publication, this conversation became one of the top five most downloaded episodes of our podcast.
Reporters Aallyah Wright and Kelsey Davis first wrote about Olecia James before the consolidation of Cleveland Central High School made national headlines as the subject of a 2016 federal desegregation order. However, it wasn’t until their May 3, 2019 story published on James’ being stripped of the salutatorian honor due to fear of white flight that national outrage ensued. Two weeks before graduation from Cleveland Central High School, James found out school officials lowered her GPA by reducing the quality points she earned at the former East Side High School. The reduction was corrected by the school board, but on graduation day a white male with a lower GPA was honored with the salutatorian designation. James has filed a lawsuit against the Cleveland School District alleging academic accolades lost because of racial discrimination. Readers reached out to our newsroom, and to University of Mississippi officials, offering financial assistance on James’ behalf.
A team of three Mississippi Today reporters, led by reporter Alex Rozier, was the first in the state to deeply report the causes and effects of the devastating flooding in the south Delta. The reporting team filed dispatches from three different Delta counties affected by the flooding, publishing an in-depth and layered series of stories. All reporting was accompanied by poignant visuals from photographer Eric Shelton.
After Mississippi Today's flood coverage, several Jackson TV stations and the statewide newspaper traveled to the south Delta to cover it themselves, amplifying public attention. Tommy Parker, a resident in the Eagle Lake community that is still underwater, said Mississippi Today's reporting started a chain of events that led to increased government assistance for the community.
Mississippi Today's coverage garnered the attention of NBC News in New York, which reached out to partner with Mississippi Today on a comprehensive report on the political nature of the flooding and decisions made at the Environmental Protection Agency and in Congress. All six of Mississippi's congressional delegates have now publicly called for the EPA to install backwater pumps to alleviate future disasters.
When a Jones County prosecutor and a top sheriff’s official found a new way to punish pregnant women suspected of using drugs, Mississippi Today health reporter Erica Hensley and criminal justice reporter Michelle Liu took notice. Four nearly four years, the prosecutor and sheriff’s captain have been working together to prosecute drug-abusing mothers with a felonious child abuse statute. Many maternal rights advocates say the duo is violating the rights of pregnant women and deterring them from getting the health care they need. In a two-part series, Mississippi Today unravels the nuanced story of addiction, pregnancy and the Mississippi criminal justice system, which lacks decriminalization policy, community-based treatment programs and pregnancy support for addicts. Over the course of our reporting, advocates began looking at the possibility of litigation.
The Mississippi Today political team is closely following the multitude of 2019 races in Mississippi, with special focus on the gubernatorial primary and the increasingly bitter race for secretary of state. A closer look at how state agencies are functioning is layered into the election coverage, with Mississippi Today’s reporting on education, mental health, foster care and social services surfacing in public discourse and candidate platforms.
Aallyah Wright was the first to report that Clarksdale Mayor Chuck Espy pledged $10,000 of his own money to pay criminals to move out of town. The story was picked up nationally, including an appearance by Espy on NBC’s TODAY.
Senior capitol reporter Bobby Harrison’s political policy analysis is published weekly in seven newspapers across the state, including the Daily Journal and Sun Herald which enjoy large circulation.
There is no summer break for the Mississippi Today education beat, as this team of three has broken multiple stories and written numerous explainers around the loss of more than 236 Jackson Public School District teachers due to a licensing snafu, the greater loss of teachers statewide due to licensing hurdles, the “third grade reading gate” and the ongoing debate around charter schools. GOP gubernatorial candidate Judge Bill Walle,jr. references the team’s reporting on teacher shortage in his statewide television commercial, supporting his platform for increased teacher pay. The education team’s monthly newsletter, The Bell, enjoys a growing subscription base and continues to be a proven resource for educators, policy makers and parents alike.
Mississippi Today experienced two viral stories in Q2 2019: “Robert Foster, GOP governor candidate, denies woman reporter access because of her gender” and “‘I was so heartbroken’: African American student stripped of salutatorian honor lost Ole Miss scholarship opportunity, lawyer says.” The social media storm surrounding both stories resulted in higher traffic than we’ve experienced in our three years since launch.
Larrison Campbell’s story on Foster brought more than 32,000 people to mississippitoday.org, and generated 62,000 engagements on Twitter. Campbell alone gained 4,000 Twitter followers.
Social media coordinator Sereena Henderson saw an opportunity during graduation season to share an ICYMI post about Aallyah Wright and Kelsey Davis’ reporting on the would-be salutatorian. Her re-post culminated in the most-read story of all time on Mississippi Today, generating 337,577 page views through Facebook and resulting in 5,000 engagements.
The Mississippi Today podcast has been rebranded as The Other Side, a nod to the show’s dedication to telling stories on both sides of the aisle. This quarter, the team has produced episodes with both democratic and republican gubernatorial candidates, as well as political experts and Mississippi Today reporters. Two of the top five most downloaded podcasts were published in Q2, a special episode with Mississippi Today’s female reporters and an interview with GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Waller, Jr.
The Facebook Journalism Project Community Network has awarded Mississippi Today a $25,000 grant to support the Expats Project. This grant will help grow the initiative and reach new markets of Mississippians living outside of the state.
Mississippi Expats Atlanta took place in May at the home of Jackson native Amanda Thames Tucker. The event gave us the opportunity to introduce our work to Mississippians in Atlanta, and grow financial support in the Atlanta market. Advertising leading up to the Mississippi Expats ATL event helped grow our Atlanta readership, with more than 40,000 readers in the Atlanta market logging on to Mississippi Today in the month of May. In addition, YTD pageviews for Atlanta are up 168% over last year, and YTD Users in Atlanta are up 185% over last year.
Reporters Kayleigh Skinner and Aallyah Wright moderated two education panels respectively for the Mississippi Humanities Council Ideas on Tap series, and senior Capitol reporter Bobby Harrison presented a lecture on the 2019 elections to the Mississippi Society of Association Executives. Larrison Campbell presented as part of the 2019 Mississippi National Education for Women’s Leadership program at Mississippi University for Women in Columbus, and photojournalist Eric Shelton traveled to both New York and San Francisco as an instructor with CatchLight Local, a visual storytelling initiative working to engage visual journalism at the community level.
Mississippi Today’s #publicnewsroom programs don’t end when the events are over. Our engagement team has stretched these Delta-based, in-person reporter+reader events to offer resource guides and build an audience of followers who engage in conversation through social media long after the meetings have adjourned. As a result of the growing participation in the #publicnewsroom programming, The Delta Beat newsletter launched in July with more than 200 sign-ups before the inaugural edition was even published.
The engagement team was awarded a $15,000 grant from the LenFest Institute for training from the Listening Post Collective. The team and several staffers spent time with veteran journalist Jesse Hardman learning new ways to incorporate community members into the reporting process.
The 2019 summer internship program took place over 8-weeks, with four talented young people joining our newsroom on both the editorial and business/marketing teams. Grace Marion and Will Stribling (both students at the University of Mississippi) served as reporting interns, working directly with Harvey Parson. Stribling’s reporting on Hinds County candidate Malcolm Johnson was picked up widely across the state. Marion’s story on the economics of the prison industry helped shine light on the role of private prisons to the state’s workforce.
Alyssa Bass (University of Southern Mississippi) and Bethany Atkinson (University of Mississippi) worked under the leadership of Lauchlin Fields as engagement interns. Bass and Atkinson were key players in developing the #MSELEX voter guide, event graphics and PR, as well as social media content creation. Both Bass and Atkinson worked closely with Fields to track site metrics and create growth strategy based on analytic data. The engagement interns also helped with content curation, including data visualizations, for newsletters, podcast promotion and site enhancements.
Page Views: 394,000
(200% increase YTD)
(200% increase YTD)
New Users: 195,000
(225% increase YTD)
(YTD data N/A)
(increase of > 3,000 YTD)
(YTD data N/A)
Mississippi Today’s Inaugural Spring Membership Campaign surpassed our goals and exceeded expectations. We raised $25,831.91 and had 126 new donors, with a total of 153 individual donations. Raising $10,000 more than we set out to is awesome, but having 126 first-time donors (nearly 80% of spring campaign giving) is equally as great. Member revenue has increased 50 percent since December 2018.