Monday, September 26, 2022

Three UM Alumni Recognized for Outstanding Reporting

Staff Report

School of Journalism

Grace Marion (second from left), a University of Mississippi graduate and contributing reporter for the Mississippi Free Press, and Christian Middleton (second from right) show off their SPJ Diamond Awards while celebrating in Oxford. They are joined by Kimberly Griffin (left), MFP publisher and chief revenue officer, and Donna Ladd, MFP editor. Photo by Cristen Hemmins

University of Mississippi alumni Torsheta Jackson, Nick Judin and Grace Marion have been recognized at the 2022 Diamond Journalism Awards for reporting published by the Mississippi Free Press. 

The awards, sponsored by the Arkansas Pro Chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists, honor work by students and professionals in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.

Jackson and a team of MFP reporters won the print/online special section category with “Black Women, Systemic Barriers and COVID-19 Project.” Jackson also was a finalist in two categories for her reporting on “Black Women, COVID-19 and Education in Noxubee County,” along with Kristin Brenemen and MFP editor Donna Ladd.

Judin received the Charlotte Tillar Schexnayder Award for Public Service Journalism for “What the Jackson Water Crisis Exposed.” He also was a finalist for print/online reporting with “Solutions for Health Equity in Mississippi.”

Marion, with Christian Middleton, earned the Robert S. McCord Freedom of Information Award for “Drug Unit Travails Hidden from Public View.” 

“All of their work follows our guiding and shared belief that great and impactful journalism is not stenography or done via email,” Ladd said. “Journalists have to go to sources and look for the real story, not just chase a headline and sound bites.

“These three journalists of different ages, training and experience levels all embody the MFP ethos, including dedication to teamwork and collaboration.”

Jackson, originally from Noxubee County, earned a master’s degree in education and served in the Mississippi Teachers Corps. She has been teaching English communications, debate and speech for the past 19 years, but started freelancing for various outlets in the state in 2008.

“Systemic reporting was new to Torsheta, but she embraced it fully, turning over every stone she could to understand why so many systemic barriers exist today for Black Noxubee countians – realities she admits she did not question much growing up there,” Ladd said.

Jackson typically works on feature articles, and the MFP project was her first experience in investigative journalism.

“I loved it,” she said. “It was heartbreaking and sad, but a good experience.

“I’m blessed to have been chosen to write about Noxubee County.”

Judin’s work explores the historical and human perspective of the Mississippi capital city’s failed water system over several weeks in 2021.

“The point of journalism is impact,” he said. “The history of Jackson, with all its complexities and what that means for today and the future, must be understood.”

Judin received attention from national news outlets for his coverage of Jackson’s water system failures. Ladd credits that to Judin’s ability to build relationships with sources.

“He used his deep, local source base to go into the homes of people affected and told powerful and haunting stories about what they faced because of historic inequities,” Ladd said. “… And he explained the technical and historic aspects of the crisis in a way no other media could do without his sense of understanding the systemic issues at play.”

Judin works to tell complex policy stories with a human touch.

“If it means people are engaging and grappling with that, then I’m good,” he said.

Judin lives and works in Jackson, his hometown. He graduated from Ole Miss in 2012 with a degree in English, focusing on creative writing. He eventually became a state reporter with the Jackson Free Press and moved to the Mississippi Free Press in 2021. 

He recently was named a national health fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism to research housing inequity and evictions.

Marion, originally from Levittown, Pennsylvania, earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from UM in May. Her reporting with Christian Middleton on practices of the Oxford-Lafayette County Drug Crimes Task Force was lauded for their use of public records in combination with strong reporting.

Middleton started reporting for “Drug Unit Travails Hidden from Public View” and then moved from Oxford. Marion picked up where he left off and worked with him to highlight the task force’s use of funds and power.

“She built on the work with the same fervor (Christian) brought to it, working with him as a team, they sought, received and reported data that revealed even more about the local criminal-justice system and policing as an institution,” Ladd said.

“Community officials and leaders were not too happy about the story,” Marion said. She received harsh feedback and criticism from local officials, but she also knows that is part of the work.

For her, the SPJ award is her first big “adult” journalism achievement and validates she is on the right path for her career.

Marion plans to start graduate school this fall at the University of California at Berkeley, where she will continue developing her investigative journalism skills. She hopes to train other professionals and newsrooms in those skills to keep important local reporting alive.

“I will probably come back to Mississippi,” she said. “It’s a good place to start with this work.”

Ladd is excited about Marion’s future as well.

“She has it, and I can’t wait to see what she does in grad school at Berkeley and beyond,” Ladd said. “We’ll always keep the light on for her if she wants to come back.”


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