With the legislative season coming to a close, those of us who spend a lot of time championing progress for Jackson and Mississippi have had a tough go of it.
But, there's a silver lining from these first few months, at least from my perspective as the publisher of the Jackson Free Press—and that's our team of reporters and our dedicated readers who have gotten to know each other through the course of this session.
I'm extremely proud of what this team has brought to the broader conversation, so I'd like to call out some of their names this week as the session comes to an end.
State reporter Arielle Dreher has been digging deep on critical state issues, spelunking in campaign-finance reports and keeping careful watch on bills that affect people's checkbooks, lives, health and liberty. Of note, her coverage of HB 1523 has gone positively viral online, helping drive two of our best months of web traffic ever, and informing tens of thousands of people about the status of numerous bills as they progressed.
Hechinger Education Reporting Fellow Sierra Mannie has kept tabs on all things education-related, from (what I would call) the charter-overreach legislation, to district consolidation, to underfunding of public schools, and some of the critical and engaging stories of the students and teachers involved in these battles. Her coverage of Ridgeland's struggle with changing race demographics made The Washington Post and drove national awareness of some people's desire to cross district lines for a better education.
Since arriving at the JFP, city reporter Tim Summers has split his time between City Council, endless board meetings and the Capitol, taking only occasional five- to 10-minute naps on weekends. His determined work on the Jackson airport takeover bill continues to reveal the maneuvering behind this legislation, with more to come. His coverage on water, roads and the city's response to state legislation has been the best on record, and it's provoked a very serious conversation about the convergence of city, counties and state government around critical infrastructure and resource challenges. (And he's "broken" Google Analytics once or twice himself.)
Deputy News Editor Maya Miller is helping the JFP revamp its crime coverage, focusing not on "if it bleeds, it leads" TV-style stories, but instead looking for the context in the numbers and the real solutions that can come from serious consideration of policing and community challenges. She's already toured and written about conditions at the Raymond Detention Center, and recently she spent quality time with the Jackson Police Department (along with JFP Photographer Imani Khayyam) that will continue to inform our coverage of crime and violence in Jackson.
And Imani, by the way, is killing it, with crazy first-hand photos from all around the city, working with each of the reporters to bring you a better understanding of the news through images. (If you haven't seen his week-in-review photo galleries online, then check them out at jfp.ms/photos/galleries.)
Some of this work that Maya, Imani and others are doing is part of a project that Editor-in-chief Donna Ladd is launching with this week's cover story—a multi-part series on preventing violence in our community. As you will see, Donna's cover story focuses on young men struggling to avoid crime in one of Jackson's most challenged neighborhoods, but it's informed by her reporting in the past year in New York City that she has been able to undertake thanks to support from the Solutions Journalism Network, along with grants from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and her continued work as a leadership fellow with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, where she is working to bring more substantive journalism about vulnerable young people to the state.
A second Solutions Journalism Network grant will help fund the JFP's project to examine root causes and present efforts and possible solutions toward eliminating violence from our neighborhoods and schools through community programs and progressive policing practices. So, in other words, you're going to see a lot more of our news team, with additional help from reporting intern Onelia Hawa, who has already hit the streets on two beats—reporting on Donald Trump's (rather expensive) appearance in Madison and bilingual reporting on immigration issues during this legislative season. All the while, Web Editor Dustin Cardon helps us break continual news, and the rest of the staff passionately plays that part in getting this work out there.
Maybe all of this is why Southern Living recently named Donna one of the "Innovators Changing the South." The magazine calls her "an old-fashioned muck-raking journalist with a sharp modern voice."
I agree—and not just because of her own shoe-leather reporting and writing, but also because of her determination to pull together a team of reporters, photographers and researchers who also want to do this sort of important work, uncovering truths and building context for important stories, and solutions, in Jackson and Mississippi.
At the Jackson Free Press, we have a phrase we use frequently—"the permission to care deeply." It's something that we ask our employees to grant others in the office—allow them to care deeply about the work they're doing and help each other stay focused while executing well to make a difference.
Caring deeply is something that we do as a journalist outlet, as well; our goal is to be fair and accurate, but not so "balanced" as to isolate ourselves from context and the truth. Another phrase I use to explain it is, you can't "balance the truth with lies" just because it makes the liars happy.
We recently completed a reader survey online with the Circulation Verification Council that included, for the first time, a space for reader responses and advice—and 230 people out of the more than 500 who filled out the full survey sent us their (anonymous and unfiltered) thoughts. Nothing we read surprised us. A few folks think we're too "liberal" or "far left" on the op-ed pages, and we know certain people would die if we left out the horoscopes, crosswords and music coverage one week. One of my favorites was this one: "I appreciate the vigilance of JFP in monitoring all levels of government as well as matters of social and cultural concern in Mississippi." I love that one because, at the end of the day, that's what matters to the JFP.
Our writers do have a voice, and—on the op-ed pages and the web—we offer opinions and analysis and give you a forum, too. But, most of all, we have an extremely dedicated staff that maintains this level of vigilance because democracy requires it. We know that you, our readers, have jobs to do, so we'll sit in the meetings, chase down the legislators, ride in police cars and perch on park benches to learn what's really going on—then we'll report it back to you. It's our job. Cheers to our news team, and thanks to you for reading.
Email President and Publisher Todd Stauffer at firstname.lastname@example.org.