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We Don’t Scare Easily—MFP’s Focus Is Getting It Right, Not Reporting It First

I was in Los Angeles a week ago, still on a high after winning the Institute of  Nonprofit News Media’s (INN) Emerging Leader award for 2022.  Donna and I spent five days in L.A. connecting with members of the Online News Association (ONA) and INN, which included potential funders and possible collaborators. We’d introduce ourselves as the co-founders of the Mississippi Free Press and immediately people asked us about our water situation and if we were OK. The next words were usually filled with gratitude for our journalism and our journalists. It was gratifying and lifted my spirits.

I returned on Sunday to find the team being attacked on social media because somehow, some way, the internet trolls determined that we had hijacked the welfare-fraud coverage because Ashton Pittman and his husband William Pittman did a TANF story about it that got lots of national attention. By the way, Ashton and Liam just dropped a welfare fraud timeline that’s pure fire. Go read it. Mississippi College English professor Steve Price tweeted today that there are no excuses not to understand Mississippi’s TANF crisis “with this detailed, evidence-based timeline.” And Tupelo Daily Journal Executive Editor Sam Hall tweeted this praise for it: “Unbelievably comprehensive timeline of the TANF scandal in Mississippi put together by @ashtonpittman—including links to coverage by multiple news outlets. Great work here.”

Ashton Pittman and his husband William Pittman created a timeline that focuses on that element of the welfare scandal, including text messages with Favre and others revealed in court filings by former Gov. Phil Bryant and by Nancy New’s nonprofit, the Mississippi Community Education Center. Photo by Gov. Tate Reeves/Twitter

So what’s up with the trolls? There’s a lot to unpack here, but as the Black church says, “I’ll be brief.” First, not one person on our team is fixated on being first. Getting it right is our goal. That often requires more time, more documents, more interviews and more reflection. There’s nothing wrong with being first because it provides Mississippians initial information; it’s just not our main thing. Second, this is a critical public investigation

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