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Journalist Jerry Mitchell, director and co-founder of the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting

Jerry Mitchell

Jerry Mitchell, director and co-founder of the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting (MCIR), has been selected as the winner of the 2024 I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence in recognition of his exemplary body of work and lifelong commitment to investigative journalism.

For the past four decades, his hard-hitting stories have exposed injustices, corruption and abuse of power in the American South. His work has prompted prosecutions, important reforms of state agencies and firings of state board officials.

Mitchell’s powerful cold case investigations helped lead to convictions of Ku Klux Klan members many years after they committed some of the nation’s most notorious crimes. Those attacks include the 1963 assassination of civil rights activist Medgar Evers, the NAACP’s first field secretary in Mississippi, the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham that killed four girls, and the 1964 murder of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andy Goodman and Mickey Schwerner.

Despite dozens of death threats from Klansmen and the objections of readers opposed to his investigations, Mitchell has courageously persevered in his reporting.

Mitchell’s work also led to the 2016 conviction of Felix Vail, the longest-delayed conviction in a serial killer case in U.S. history. Vail, who authorities believe killed at least three women, was prosecuted nearly 54 years after he murdered his first wife.

In 2023, Mitchell and his colleagues produced “Unfettered Power: Mississippi Sheriffs,” a series co-reported by The New York Times and the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting at Mississippi Today that chronicled events preceding the March 2024 federal prison sentencing of six former Rankin County law enforcement officers. The men — members of the self- proclaimed “Goon Squad” — were tried for the torture and sexual abuse of two Black men and a third white man.

On April 10, 2024, the men received additional state prison sentences ranging from 10 to 20 years. Some state officials and lawmakers are now working to change laws to make sheriffs more accountable.

In addition, MCIR’s prison project, produced in partnership with the ProPublica Local Reporting Network led to a Justice Department investigation of serious problems inside Mississippi prisons, which is continuing.

Honoring a Career of Service

I.F. Stone Medal jury member Bernice Yeung said: “Mitchell represents the best of journalistic tradition and its future. He has remained committed to covering the South, and in the process, he has elevated and provided opportunities to the next generation of investigative reporters. The work he and his colleagues recently produced on Mississippi’s lawless and abusive law enforcement agencies is a powerful demonstration of how Jerry Mitchell’s hard-charging yet collaborative approach can help our industry find a way forward.”

Michael Riley, another selection committee juror, added: “Mitchell continues to shepherd amazing work as a mentor and editor to up-and-coming young reporters. I think the continued work coming from MCIR – and its collaboration with Mississippi Today – really does show the profound and ongoing influence Mitchell has had in Mississippi and nationally.”

And juror Jasmine Brown noted: “Mitchell is a dogged journalist cut from old-school cloth. Since 2019, the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting has become a force holding those to account who for years have been thought too big to fall — from sheriffs to prisons. To help bolster local coverage and struggling newsrooms, the center distributes its work pro bono to news outlets across the state. They have also established the MCIR Immersion Program, which works to train and inspire the next generation of investigative reporters.”

Mitchell began his career in 1983 at the Sentinel-Record in Hot Springs, Arkansas. In 1986, he joined The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, and worked there as an investigative reporter for 32 years before co-founding the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting in 2019.

In February 2023, MCIR joined forces with Mississippi Today to continue to provide readers with crucial watchdog and investigative reporting. Mitchell’s longtime editor Debbie Skipper, who has worked with him on his reporting projects since the 1990s, had joined the Mississippi Today newsroom in October 2022 as the justice and special projects editor.

A Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2006 and longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, Mitchell has won dozens of the nation’s top journalism awards for his work and received a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2009 in recognition of his intrepid reporting. In 1996, filmmakers portrayed him in the movie “Ghosts of Mississippi,” about the reopening of the Medgar Evers assassination. Two years later, he was honored along with three other journalists at the Kennedy Center in Washington.

His memoir about his pursuit of civil rights cold cases, “Race Against Time: A Reporter Reopens the Unsolved Murder Cases of the Civil Rights Era,” was published in 2020.

Established in 2008, the I.F. Stone Medal honors the life of investigative journalist I.F. Stone and is presented annually to a journalist or journalists whose work captures the spirit of journalistic independence, integrity and courage that characterized I.F. Stone’s Weekly, published from 1953 to 1971. Mitchell will receive his medal during a ceremony at the Nieman Foundation in May. The award is administered by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard.

An independent committee of journalists chaired by PBS Public Editor Ricardo Sandoval-Palos oversees nominations and selection of the medal winner. Selection committee members are Jasmine Brown, a senior producer in the race and culture unit at ABC News’ “World News Tonight with David Muir” and a 2020 Nieman Fellow, Bernice Yeung, managing editor of the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, Michael Riley, an investigative reporter for Bloomberg News and Businessweek magazine, and Phillip W. d. Martin, a senior investigative reporter for the GBH News Center for Investigative Reporting and a 1998 Nieman Fellow. Myra MacPherson, author of the biography “All Governments Lie: The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I.F. Stone” is an emeritus juror.

The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard educates leaders in journalism, promotes innovation and elevates the standards of the profession. More than 1,700 journalists from 100 countries have been awarded Nieman Fellowships since 1938. The foundation also publishes Nieman Reports, a website and print magazine covering thought leadership in journalism; Nieman Journalism Lab, a website reporting on the future of news, innovation and best practices in the digital media age; and Nieman Storyboard, a website showcasing exceptional narrative journalism and nonfiction storytelling

Learn more about Jerry Mitchell’s work:

Nieman Reports:

Clarion Ledger investigations:

  • Gone” (Clarion Ledger/USA Today, 2012) by Jerry Mitchell. This multi-part series tells the story of Mississippi native Felix Vail, suspected of killing at least three women and possibly others. Vail’s August 2016 conviction marked the oldest prosecution of a serial killer suspect in U.S. history.
  • A 2014 investigative series that examined corruption and abuse in Mississippi’s corrections system helped lead to the head of the state’s Department of Corrections being indicted and the Mississippi Legislature passing legislation aimed at reforming corrections and reducing the prison population.

Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting projects produced in partnership with ProPublica:

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