Leah Willingham

Leah Willingham covers the Mississippi Legislature for The Associated Press where she concentrates on poverty issues. Before this, she reported for the Concord Monitor in N.H. and holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Mount Holyoke College. She was named the New England Newspaper and Press Association’s ‘Rookie of the Year’ in 2018 and has won two New England News & Press Association’s Publick Occurrences Awards in 2018 and 2019, one for a project on younger-onset Alzheimer’s, and another on teen suicide prevention. She was part of a group of Monitor reporters that won first place in investigative reporting from NENPA in its 2019 Better Newspaper Competition. The stories followed how local school district officials handled reports from students about a teacher arrested for sexual assault. Willingham is the recipient of the 2018 National Alliance for the Mentally New Hampshire Annual Media Award and two New Hampshire Press Association first place awards for health reporting and general news.

Mississippi Today

Mississippi Today is dedicated to providing Mississippians with reporting that inspires active interest in their state and equips them to engage in community life.

Associated Press

The Associated Press is a global news agency that began 172 years ago as a cooperative of five New York City newspapers. With 263 locations in more than 100 countries, AP provides journalism to roughly 15,000 media outlets around the world. AP sets standards for ethics and excellence, and has won 52 Pulitzer Prizes, including the 2016 gold medal for Public Service for an investigation into labor abuses in the seafood industry, reports that freed more than 2,000 slaves. AP’s seven news bureaus in the northeast U.S. provide vital local and regional news to 378 newsrooms.

Sun Herald

The Sun Herald is a local news organization that produces a website, a newspaper and top-notch social media engagement. We may be small in numbers, but we're big on accountability and visual journalism that makes a difference. We've been serving our community for over 130 years and pride ourselves on investigative stories that no one else here will touch. We consistently win numerous state journalism awards and have been awarded McClatchy's highest journalism honor for four of the last five years.

Shirley L. Smith

Shirley L. Smith is an investigative journalist with experience covering topics ranging from the HIV/AIDS epidemic and other health care issues to criminal justice, natural disasters, education, municipal government and a myriad of social issues.  She is one of 61 reporters who was selected to cover under-covered communities and issues across the country as part of the Report for America program, a national public service program dedicated to local journalism. Prior to joining MCIR, Shirley worked as a freelance writer for several years.  She also worked as a full-time reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Virgin Islands Daily News, The Telegraph and The South Fulton Neighbor.  Her work has also been featured in numerous other publications and news sites including The Clarion-Ledger, Mississippi Today, The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, HealthQuest magazine, Spinal Column magazine, Women’s eNews and MedHelp.org. She has also taught journalism at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California. Shirley earned her master’s degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She also had a stint as a gubernatorial speechwriter, and as a public relations executive and consultant.

Michelle Liu

Michelle was a reporting intern for the Toledo Blade, and a general assignment intern for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. As a reporter for the Yale Daily News and a contributing reporter for the New Haven Independent, she shadowed canvassers in New Hampshire and covered labor unions in Connecticut. She was also a program coordinator for Yale’s Summer Journalism Program for high school students. Since joining Report for America, Liu has covered criminal justice for Mississippi Today. The Institute for Non-Profit News named Michelle’s reporting on the spike of prison deaths in Mississippi as one of the “Best in Nonprofit News” in 2018. Her continued reporting on this and other stories not only helped lead the MDOC to invite the FBI to get involved in the investigation of these deaths, but her dogged records requests were cited by the Department of Corrections while asking the Legislature to exempt agencies from parts of the Public Records Act. More recently, the Mississippi Humanities Council invited Michelle to moderate a panel titled, “Locked Up: Criminal Justice in Mississippi.” She continues this work in her second year with Report for America.

Eric Shelton

Eric Shelton is a photojournalist whose work has been published in the Boston Globe, LA Times, New York Times, USA Today, and Washington Post. He first left his home state of Mississippi to intern with the Associated Press in Boston. He worked across Texas and Mississippi as a photojournalist for Texarkana Gazette and the Natchez Democrat, a multimedia journalist for the Abilene Reporter-News, and digital reporter and chief photographer for the Hattiesburg American. He then worked as photo editor of the Killeen Daily Herald, managing photo and video for five publications. Eric has won awards from the Mississippi Associated Press Managing Editors and the Arkansas Press Photographers Association. He returned to Mississippi to become the first photojournalist at Mississippi Today. He continues with us for a second year.

Alexandra Watts

Alexandra was a 2017 Next Generation Radio Fellow with NPR in 2017. While at Arizona State University, she became the first ever audio and podcast editor for The State Press, and she worked on podcasts/audio with the news division of Arizona PBS. Watts has a BA & MMC from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She had internships with KJZZ and worked in community engagement with the PIN Bureau, where she was part of the team who won the Associated Press Media Editors’ Innovator of the Year Award for College Students. Poverty reporting in the Mississippi Delta The Mississippi Delta remains one of the most deprived regions in the country. Alex examines how poverty affects the lives of residents and the resources needed to address their critical needs.

Mississippi Today

Mississippi Today is dedicated to providing Mississippians with reporting that inspires active interest in their state and equips them to engage in community life.