From left to right: Kristin Brenemen, Andrea Thomas, Ronni Mott, R.L. Nave, Stephanie Bowering, Monique Davis, Erica Crunkilton, Jacob Fuller, Kathleen M. Mitchell, Donna Ladd, Todd Stauffer, Kimberly Griffin, Latasha Willis, Matt Heindl, Dustin Cardon, Briana Robinson and Trip Burns. Not pictured: Montroe Headd, Bryan Flynn, Natalie Long, Meredith Sullivan, Korey Harrion, Eric Bennett, Molly Lehmuller.
Photo by Trip Burns.
Over the years, the Jackson Free Press has dug in deep on a number of big stories and topics that produced major results for the city and state. Here are our biggest:
1. Uncovering the real Frank Melton: Staff coverage of the late mayor, and his foibles, started in late 2004 when he was running for mayor and continued through his death. Editor Donna Ladd's series of interviews with Melton, and raucous ride-alongs in the Mobile Command Unit, captivated the city. And Adam Lynch's breaking story that Melton had led an assault on a duplex and its schizophrenic tenant landed Melton both in state and federal court—and, more importantly, helped get the young people out of his home and the guns off his body. See more: jfp.ms/melton.
2. Jailing a Klansman: When a Canadian filmmaker asked Donna Ladd and photographer Kate Medley to allow him to follow them to Natchez and Meadville in 2005 with the brother of a young man (Charles Moore) killed, along with his friend Henry Dee, by the Klan in 1964, they didn't know they would find the main suspect alive (The Clarion-Ledger had reported him dead.) They also didn't know that he would die in prison as a result of the trip, the series of award-winning stories and a journal they discovered on a later trip there. See jfp.ms/dee_moore.
3. Stopping Domestic Abuse: Editor Donna Ladd decided early on that in one of the most violent states for women—where few people talked about it—domestic abuse must be a primary focus for the paper. The JFP Chick Ball annually raises awareness and money to help with systemic change. And News Editor Ronni Mott's powerful and in-depth stories have put a human face on the abuse and helped lead to legislative change and abusers seeking help. See jfp.ms/domesticabuse.
4. Questioning a Bad Idea: The JFP's "Two Lakes coverage" revealed serious problems and costs with a costly flood-control development and helped lead to a compromise when many people claimed there couldn't be one. See page 17 and jfp.ms/pearlriver.
5. Telling Cedric's Story: Brian Johnson wrote an in-depth feature about Cedric Willis who was prosecuted by District Attorney Ed Peters and ADA Bobby Delaughter with shoddy evidence and then served 12 years for murders he didn't commit. Brian's story revealed that the state gave Cedric nothing when he left prison; the late Rev. Ross Olivier was inspired by Brian's story to help lobby the state to change the restitution law. In addition, Cedric is a regular at the JFP, talking to interns and staffers about how and why Brian's story made such a difference to him and the world. See jfp.ms/cedric.
6. Unpacking Personhood: The JFP's team coverage of the personhood amendment last year brought a national and a regional public-service award precisely because we refused to fit the story it an us-vs.-them frame. We told the entire story and published columns by "grassroots mamas" that helped defeat the initiative last November. Now, our stories on the continuing attempts to shut down the state's only abortion clinic continue to attract national attention. See jfp.ms/personhood.
7. Revealing Barbour's pardons: In 2008, Ronni Mott and then-intern Sophie McNeil did research around the state and then revealed to the state and the world that Gov. Haley Barbour had pardoned a series of men who had brutally murdered wives and girlfriends. Even though The New York Times and other national media paid attention to our warning, the state's media ignored it. That is, until Barbour exploded with a long list of pardons on his way out of office in 2011; by then, it was too late to preemptively stop him. But our collective conscience is clear. See jfp.ms/pardons.
8. Standing up for kids: A major focus for the JFP has been shining light on the horrible treatment of young people in the state's schools and juvenile-justice system. Kids' advocates give us credit for helping bring training-school reforms to the state, and judges have told us our explanatory stories help them make better decisions. But much work is left to be done. See jfp.ms/youth.
9. Crushing the Voter ID myth: The JFP's coverage of voter ID has shown and continues to show the folly in costly legislation that won't actually stop existing voter fraud. Summer intern Vergie Redmond gets major props for stories that were picked up and mentioned by media across the country this year. See jfp.ms/voterid.
10. Tweaking Tort Reform: In the early years, Donna Ladd and Todd Stauffer spent much time at the Legislature reporting on the myths of tort reform—and the state media that only reported half the story. Time has proved us correct. See jfp.ms/hoodwinked.
The JFP has won the following awards since it launched in 2002:
Association of Alternative Newsmedia: 2012 Public Service 1st Place: Mississippi Defeats Personhood by staff; 2nd Place: Political columns by Tom Head; Innovation 2nd Place: GOOD Ideas/Crime by staff. 2011 Feature Story 2nd Place: "Trying Kids As Adults" by Valerie Wells and Donna Ladd; Public Service Honorable Mention: Domestic Violence series by Ronni Mott, et al.; Columns Honorable Mention: Donna Ladd. 2010 Investigative Reporting Honorable Mention: Jackson Public Schools by Ward Schaefer; Public Service 2nd Place: Two Lakes by Adam Lynch, Ward Schaefer, Todd Stauffer and Donna Ladd. 2008 Feature Story 1st Place: "We Are Family: A Klan Child Fans a Different Flame" by Donna Ladd; News Story-Long Form Honorable Mention: "The State of JPD" by Adam Lynch; Public Service 1st Place: Klansmen James Ford Seale Convicted: series by Donna Ladd, Kate Medley and Matt Saldana. 2007 Column 3rd Place: by Casey Parks; Feature Story 1st Place: "Cedric Willis and the Failure of Mississippi Justice" by Brian Johnson; Investigative Reporting 2nd Place: Frank Melton coverage by Brian Johnson, Donna Ladd and Adam Lynch. 2006 Column-Political 2nd Place: by Donna Ladd; Feature Story 3rd Place: "Inside Mississippi's Pro-Life Movement" by Casey Parks; Investigative Reporting 2nd Place: "Road to Meadville" series by Donna Ladd; Media Reporting/Criticism 2nd Place: Todd Stauffer; News Story-Short Form 1st Place: Adam Lynch; 2006 Web Site Honorable Mention: jfp.ms. 2005 Feature Story 1st Place: "Alleged Victims: Jackson Family Wants Closure From the Church" by Donna Ladd; Food Writing 2nd Place: Jesse Yancy; News Story-Short Form 1st Place: Ayana Taylor. 2004 Column 3rd Place: Donna Ladd; 2004 Music Criticism 2nd Place Donna Ladd.
Society of Professional Journalists/Southeastern: Note: 2012 Feature Writing 1st Place: Valerie Wells; Serious Commentary 1st Place: Donna Ladd; Public Service 2nd Place: Personhood by Valerie Wells, Elizabeth Waibel, Lacey McLaughlin, Lori Garrott, Shannon Barbour, Stacey Spiehler, Funmi Franklin, R.L. Nave, Adam Lynch and Donna Ladd. 2011 Courts and the Law Reporting 1st Place: "Rush to Judgment: Trying Kids As Adults" by Valerie Wells and Donna Ladd; Serious Commentary 1st Place: Donna Ladd. 2010 Public Service 2nd Place: "Two Lakes" by Adam Lynch, Ward Schaefer, Todd Stauffer and Donna Ladd; Non-Deadline Reporting 1st Place: Preventing Violence Against Women by Ronni Mott; Courts and the Law Reporting 1st Place: The Curious Case of Frank Melton by Ward Schaefer, Adam Lynch and Donna Ladd; Serious Commentary 1st Place: Donna Ladd
Other JFP Awards: 2011 Fannie Lou Hamer Humanitarian Award: Donna Ladd; 2010 Hometown Heroes Shining Example Award: JFP Staff; 2009 Center for Violence Prevention Angel Award (Domestic Abuse): Donna Ladd; 2009 Dress for Success Women of Strength Award: Donna Ladd; 2009 Mississippi Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities Award: JFP Staff; 2005 Mississippi Leading Business Woman Award: Donna Ladd.