When Kelsey Davis ’14 was editor of The Plainsman, she and a friend who was the editor at the student newspaper at Ole Miss would talk ad nauseam about how badly Alabama and Mississippi needed a Texas Tribune-like news source to rigorously cover public policy in a way the states needed and deserved.
“At that time, it was a total pie-in-the-sky fantasy,” said Davis.
A few years later, that pie-in-the-sky fantasy became a reality in the form of Mississippi Today. Since joining the non-profit news source, Davis has covered education policy and the severe teacher shortage in the Mississippi Delta, which she likened to the Alabama Black Belt because of its racial and socioeconomic demographics.
“I’m not just saying this because they employ me, it’s really awesome. We don’t have a print product, we’re all online. It’s a huge shift in how journalism has been done and taught because journalism has been so deadline driven, you can become such a deadline junkie.”
Much different than any reporting gig she’s had in the past, Davis has a more flexible schedule to do deeply analytical investigative reporting on the Mississippi education system, including a three-part series on the teacher shortage that took a year to complete. Of course, Davis worked on other stories during that year, but she said it feels extremely fulfilling to shed light on a teacher shortage that left some students without an English teacher for all of high school.
In retrospect, journalism seems to be a natural fit for Davis, but she really didn’t understand what journalism was when she picked a major at Camp War Eagle.
“I remember sitting on the front porch of Cater Hall; they gave everyone a form and told us to check what we wanted our major to be. It was like ‘okay, check the box and decide the trajectory of your life.’”
She had no interest in studying English or going into teaching, so journalism seemed like one of the only ways to turn her passion for writing into a career. But it never really clicked for Davis until she had to write a paper on “The Elements of Journalism.”
“I stayed up all night reading the book and writing the paper, and then I was like, ‘oh, that’s what this is about.’ The whole way it was explained to me made me fall in love with it.”
From there, Davis started working in the intrigue section at The Plainsman, essentially giving her the license to write about whatever “intrigued” her any given week. But when she became editor-in-chief, her interests shifted to hard news and investigative journalism.
“I was like a full-on addict and never really wanted to do anything else. Once I got introduce to it and figured out what it was, it just felt like the right fit for me. Working for and being editor of The Plainsman is the most meaningful thing I’ve ever done so far.”
Davis has a great deal of respect for daily reporters, but it’s just not for her. She still can churn out two or three stories a day like she was doing at The Montgomery Advertiser, but her best work comes when she has the time to deeply investigate issues.
The atypical work schedule at Mississippi Today also affords Davis and her reporting partner the time to implement innovative projects, such as “Public Newsroom,” where reporters host members of the public to bring different perspectives to their coverage.
“Journalism has a history of unfairly covering communities, sometimes a very malicious way, especially during the Civil Rights Movement. We have this phrase in journalism that you need to give voice to the voiceless, but the problem is those people were never voiceless, we just quit listening to them. It’s more about us learning to re-listen.”
From discovering her calling to making life-long friends, The Plainsman in many ways defined Davis’ college experience. It was incredibly difficult for her to step away because of how much the student newspaper had become a part of her identity, and the first few years were difficult to find her niche in the field of journalism.But working at Mississippi Today has fed that passion that she developed as a young student journalist.
“I feel like the ideal version of journalism is taught in universities, and we’re pretty close to that here. I’m getting to do the ideal job with journalistic integrity, caliber and quality of work.”