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An Unexpected Life I Cherish: 20 Years of Building Free Press Journalism in Mississippi

I woke up this morning thinking about navigating the often-rough and often-delightful waters of the last 20 years of Free Press journalism in Mississippi. I then saw a picture pop up on my Facebook page from 20 years ago with Bingo Gunter, then a manager at Hal & Mal’s who would become the Jackson Free Press’ first assistant editor and now a powerhouse South Carolina academic focused on real history and race equity. We were hugging Sherri Williams, then a Clarion-Ledger reporter who introduced me to a lot of people as we were starting the JFP, and now is a badass national journalism educator and thinker in Washington, D.C.

We were younger then with the glow of hope and friendship all over our faces. But we were all locked in on making Mississippi, and thus the nation, a better place through tough journalism, truth-telling and facing our collective past. We all still are.

I didn’t co-found the JFP 20 years ago, nor did Kimberly Griffin and I start the Mississippi Free Press in 2020, to please anyone of any party or any other distinction all the time, and we don’t. We started these publications not only to tell the real truth in Mississippi without pulling needed punches that don’t fit certain narratives, but also to challenge other media to do the same thing. 

Mississippi journalism was terrible on that front in 2002 and riddled with what I now call toxic scoop culture—the rush to be the “only” or the “first” or some other silly superlative that doesn’t mean squat to the people of Mississippi, just to egos inside our industry. And the resulting efforts to shut down media like us here are now legend.

Ruffling Necessary Feathers Along The Way

In 2002, we envisioned creating a real free press in Mississippi, meaning not beholden to advertisers and usual powerful suspects who try to control everything, including thought and the flow of information. We knew it would be hard work to pull off, though, and that we would ruffle feathers along the way, both inside and outside journalism. 

That is a necessary

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