First of all, I will begin my first 2022 note for you with gratitude. Readers helped us raise just over $ 163,000 in donations, 16 different games, pledges and campaign bonuses. This is huge for what we can do for Mississippi in 2022, and we thank you for that.
What year. What a life What 21 first months of managing this publication. In many ways, running the Mississippi Free Press alongside publisher Kimberly Griffin for the past 21 months has been a blur. It was filled with pandemic heartache, anger at leaders who will not lead and prioritize public safety, and the fear we all share of getting sick or losing family members to cause of COVID-19 or in some other way with unvaccinated pressure on hospitals and staff.
But the past 21 months have also been exhilarating, wonderful and inspiring in other ways since our team pulled the trigger on the MFP just as COVID-19 hit the state. When we got home we had to report on the pandemic, we knew that. The original start-up team of native Mississippians then—Kimberly, Azia Wiggins, Ashton Pittman, Kristin Brenemen and Cristen Hemmins– have decades of institutional knowledge about our home country, and we needed to help direct the coverage and, most importantly, ask the tough questions.
When the state went into crisis mode, we went into crisis reporting mode.
‘Why outside why they fall in’
We instinctively knew that disparities would exacerbate a health crisis in communities already facing systemic barriers and inequalities. It was obvious. But we also knew it was our job to bring those disparities to the fore in a state where neither management nor the existing media had done a good job, certainly not consistently.
This week, after the loss of hero Archbishop Desmond Tutu, I saw his words shared on social media: “There comes a time when we have to stop just pulling people out of the river. We have to go back upstream and find out why they fall into it.
The need to go upstream to Mississippi, and America, is the reason the Mississippi Free Press exists. We do not shorthand or report on horse racing / red-blue players. We’re here to ask “why” – why does the Mississippi stay at the bottom? Who does it benefit from? Who do current policies hurt and repel? How can we change? What vital story is being covered up for Mississippians to leave or not act because they believed lies designed to support a powerful minority who control both narrative and resources, damn others.
This new approach to journalism in Mississippi (and most of the United States) is what we at MFP call “Mapping Mississippi”. Our reporters, who were all born and raised here with the exception of the fabulous Nigerian journalist Kayode Crown, travel county by county focusing on finding and reporting the buried truth, as well as its results. We are all sick of being fed up with the lies and distortions that keep our people divided and conquered. MFP journalism doesn’t give a damn about partisanship; we are here to find out and speak the truth, no matter where it falls on a false political spectrum. It makes some people feel uncomfortable or angry, but we don’t care.
And our belief was right: people want what we offer. We didn’t start with pockets full and we had hundreds more in the bank than millions. We are growing up with a huge reader support that looks like Mississippi and America.
People of all races, backgrounds, ages and political beliefs – and many women – are opening their pockets to develop the MFP. You evangelize for this. You encourage us. You read and share our stories. You gave us a household name very quickly. you bring us massive media coverage. You help us raise funds. And thank you, whether you own an air conditioning repair service in Hinds County or grew up poor in Pike County and are now nominated for a Golden Globe.
Not here to support the exclusive wealth class
The MFP is not there to support the exclusive wealth class. It is for all of us (including the rich who reject the exclusive, controlling and greedy part). Our journalism aims to inspire solutions and teamwork to make them happen. We will bring kick-ass journalism; the rest of you are the team and the fuel to believe and move the solutions forward.
You’ve truly shown yourself in this two-month NewsMatch campaign that ends tonight, and we’ll put your freebies to good use in 2022. We’ll use your donations to continue to bring you investigative, systemic, and solution reporting. just won’t see it elsewhere, we promise, and engage you all more directly if you’re interested.
Here’s how we plan to use your dollars in 2022. You deserve to know.
- Hire an experienced editor (preferably with close ties to Mississippi) who will manage and edit daily media coverage and cut my days often by 12 hours (I can’t do that at 60 much longer). It allows me both to do more reporting / writing (my first love) and to focus on editing and directing systemic “Mapping Mississippi” projects. Remember: Hiring more journalists always results in diminishing returns without excellent editors to lead, train, and partner with an inclusive team of journalists. We’re damn good at that at the MFP, because Associate editor Azia Wiggins explained in this badass column last week.
- Accelerate systemic projects one by one. We have 16 in-depth projects planned — from racial violence at criminal justice at education to a unit to report corruption before state officials find it late– to be activated from 2022, each with its own microsite and, ultimately, a mapping of assets and the network. We are already doing a great job in these 16 areas, but it will take the work to another level of innovation, and we need help to fund it. Dive into our inaugural “Mapping” project, a collaboration with our friends at the Jackson Advocate, at mfp.ms/bwc.
- Hire more journalists to join Ashton, Aliyah, Kayode and Nick. Our most immediate need is a systems education reporter to lean on a freelance reporter The Outstanding Work of Torsheta Jackson in Noxubee County. His work provides a glimpse of what is to come. Let’s just say it’s a very different kind of audience reporting and private education it does not focus on the red-blue fundraising policy at the Mississippi Capitol, which has proven to be a failure to ensure equitable public education for all.
- Make a lot more solution circles to add to those we’ve done with black women about COVID-19; voting and access to the enclosure; and media representation in our state. You may be aware that we think that group discussions with “experts” at a main table are an outdated and insulting model for ordinary people who we all have to listen instead in circles where everyone is equal. We cannot wait for the circles to settle in the cities of the state, as we have long envisioned.
- Build a membership strategy for all of you. Tomorrow we are officially launching the MFP VIP Club, and its first official event is January 11 with Stuart Stevens, Mississippi author and senior advisor to the Lincoln Project join Kimberly, me and the VIP MFP members in a virtual chat. If you’ve donated to MFP in 2021 by midnight tonight, you’re a founding member and will receive an invite (and links to past exclusive discussions with Aunjanue Ellis and Angie thomas). Any amount. As of tomorrow it’s not that cheap, so hurry up. We’re also designing a creative menu of member experiences, which will include my popular free Shut Up and Write seminars for members, brainstorm discussions with our team and much more. We need your intelligence and your passion in the MFP room; please join us.
- We have multimedia plans and strategies which I won’t talk about much now, but members will find out soon and maybe have the opportunity to help us think about it based on what you would like to see.
- Finally: something close and dear to my heart. Our nonprofit, Mississippi Journalism and Education Group, is now in partnership with the award-winning company Mississippi Youth Media Project, a newsroom for teens to learn solutions journalism I started several years ago as a member of the WK Kellogg leadership. He’s on hiatus at the moment, but we plan to put him back to work with MFP reporters and again do their own systemic journalism in 2022. Read their past work on jxnpulse.com. If you want to participate in some way or help YMP come back, contact me at [email protected]. YMP will have its own revenue pool.
These are the priorities, but we always plan, strategy, think and innovate, which for most of you has earned us the Startup of the Year award from the Institute for Nonprofit News in 2021. While as we enter our third year focusing on long term sustainability as nonprofit newspapers showing americans how to be truly inclusive straight from the heart of mississippi.
Thank you for your support and gifts. You are our lifeblood and we value each of you.