The power of local reporting

Mississippi Today’s Pulitzer win highlights the value that local, nonprofit news can bring to communities

Last month, Mississippi Today’s Anna Wolfe received a 2023 Pulitzer Prize for her powerful series, The Backchannel, which uncovered a $77 million welfare scandal, the largest in state history.

In her work to put together this series, Wolfe left no stone unturned. Her dogged reporting — which spanned more than five years — included thousands of hours of source work, interviews, and scores of public records requests. Despite numerous roadblocks from state officials and government agencies, Wolfe persisted, pulling at the thread behind the story to reveal a scandal that garnered broad national attention.

The Backchannel is an example of the type of journalism that results from a news organization — and its reporters — being deeply rooted in a community. Because of her laser focus on the state she serves, Wolfe was able to quickly identify that many Mississippians were not receiving much-needed financial support. And ultimately, the impact of her work will run deep, affecting the well-being of residents of the state with the highest rate of poverty for years to come.

Mississippi Today, which launched in 2016, is part of a new generation of nonprofit news organizations being funded through a combination of philanthropy, reader donations and advertising. As part of our first round of grants in 2019, the newsroom received an investment from the American Journalism Project to help build its business and operations. Since then, the newsroom has nearly doubled in size, and is taking its sustainable revenue model throughout the region: its sister newsroom, Verite, launched in 2022, and the Deep South Today Network has plans to add more newsrooms in states like Tennessee, Arkansas and Alabama. 

Like Mississippi Today and Verite, each of the 37 nonprofit news organizations in our grantee portfolio are providing independent, local, fact-based journalism that works in service of communities. And they’re all part of a bigger change happening in our industry, as philanthropists, donors and advertisers rethink how we finance and sustain local news in America. 

Wolfe’s story is an important reminder of the tireless reporting that must happen at the local level. Local news is our country’s most trusted source of information, and nonprofit news organizations are advancing a new, sustainable model for local news. What’s more, funders and individuals who care about our democracy — and the institutions that stitch them together — are joining together to support this work.

Mississippi Today is one of the organizations leading the charge, both in its on-the-ground reporting, but also in building a sustainable model for the industry. And this Pulitzer win — a landmark win for local nonprofit news — is a firm reminder that we need to support Mississippi Today and news organizations like it across the country.