A Small News Site Won a Pulitzer. Now It’s Unionizing.

From a Washington Post story by Will Sommer headlined “A small news site won a Pulitzer for its Brett Favre scoop. Now it’s unionizing.”:

Mississippi Today stunned the journalism world in May when it won a Pulitzer Prize for uncovering a $77 million state welfare scandal — a major accomplishment for a news organization founded just seven years ago.

Now staffers at the small nonprofit and its New Orleans-based sister site, Verite, will get another mark of an established newsroom: a union. On Thursday, staffers announced they are organizing through the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians.

It’s the latest evolution for parent company Deep South Today, founded by former NBC News and MSNBC chairman Andy Lack in the latter years of a high-powered journalism career. Lack is a native of New York, but his mother grew up in Mississippi.

Its twin newsrooms are part of a burgeoning national trend of media nonprofits that are hoping to fill news-coverage vacuums at a time when advertising declines and industry consolidation have forced the closure of hundreds of local newspapers.

The union drive is part of another trend in journalism, where reporters have recently responded to layoffs and worsening economic prospects with labor efforts. But journalists at Mississippi Today say they have few complaints, as the company looks to expand to other Southern states.

“We’re just trying to preserve the working conditions that we’re really happy with,” health reporter Devna Bose said.

While union drives have proved contentious at other news organizations, staffers at the two Southern nonprofit newsrooms said Thursday that management has agreed to recognize their new union.

Initially started to make up for dwindling local news coverage in the state, Mississippi Today gained national attention and ultimately its Pulitzer for a 2022 series about how the office of former governor Phil Bryant steered millions in federal welfare dollars to groups tied to his family and friends, including payments to groups tied to former star quarterback Brett Favre.

Anna Wolfe, the author of the series, says the union demonstrates Deep South Today’s professionalism and argues that it could inspire more reporters to come to work there. In June, staffers at ProPublica, arguably the most prominent nonprofit news outlet in the country, announced their own union effort.

“I hope that this effort will attract talent from all over, just really showing that we’re a serious operation,” Wolfe said.

“No newsroom is perfect,” said Michelle Liu, a Verite reporter. “But I think in our particular newsrooms there are a lot of good things we want to protect and enshrine at the end of the day, and that’s really why we’re doing this.”

Following the launch of its New Orleans outlet last year, Deep South Today is in “advanced discussions” with donors to fund similar news sites in Arkansas and Tennessee, according to a job ad the nonprofit posted earlier this year.

Bose, a native Mississippian who started working at Mississippi Today in February, said the union will improve its journalism.

“It’s really important to me as a Mississippian, as a Southerner, that we preserve this kind of journalism in our region,” she said. “And I think the most powerful way to do that is to unionize your workplace.”

Will Sommer is a media reporter for the Post Style section, specializing in covering conservative media and conspiracy theories. He’s the author of “Trust the Plan: The Rise of QAnon and the Conspiracy That Unhinged America,” a book covering the QAnon movement.

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