Stories of the Mississippi River: Adventure, freedom and journalism 

The Mississippi River flows for more than 2,300 miles through ten states, stretching for 11 miles across at its widest point. The most storied river in American history, its swirling currents gave shape to our culture. It offers a metaphor for freedom in literature and it flows through all of American music and poetry. It has given us life and work and meaning. I will never forget the first time I saw the mighty Mississippi, hitchhiking across the country circa 1979 hell bent on trying to get to New Orleans to experience the river and all the stories it has to tell.

These days, it seems some of the most important stories that need to be told about the Mississippi are about its health and its future. That’s the mission of the Mississippi River Basin Ag & Water Desk, an independent environmental reporting network created by Report for America and the University of Missouri School of Journalism with major funding from the Walton Family Foundation. Their stories focus on threats to the river caused by pollution from agribusiness, sprawling cities and increased flooding due to climate change, and they also tell the stories of the efforts underway to conserve the Mississippi and to hold on to the vibrant life it sustains for wildlife and humans along the way. And next year, we’re upping our bet on this vital beat.

GroundTruth announced on Thursday the latest expansion of our Report for America program, including 11 new partner newsrooms for the Ag & Water Desk, and calling for reporters to apply to be part of the project’s footprint in the South, reaching more diverse audiences all across the nation’s largest watershed.

Teri Hayt, Report for America’s director of corps and newsroom excellence, said, “Through this collaboration, Report for America corps members and the Ag & Water Desk team have provided impactful reporting on significant environmental issues facing the communities in the river basin… We are pleased to expand this important partnership to additional communities in the coming years and continue to provide basin residents and a national audience with insightful, science-based reporting.”

This partnership reflects a surging interest in environmental issues in local newsrooms as nearly half of the 50 new reporting positions Report for America will help open next year will focus on the environment. It’s also an endorsement of the work the current members have been producing. Just this year, they’ve called attention to the importance of farm conservation programs, and the lack of funding that stalls them due to political gridlock; unpacked the national climate assessment, outlining how it impacts local communities; and examined the expansion of composting businesses in the Midwest, and the challenges cities have to make them successful, just to name a few examples.

If you know a talented journalist who would love to embark on this journey and cover the Mississippi or any of the other 49 beats that will start next year, let them know about our program. Applications are open through Jan 31.

Earl Johnson, vice president of recruitment and alumni engagement at Report for America, described this unique opportunity well, saying, “Report for America invites journalists from diverse backgrounds to weave their unique narratives into the fabric of local newsrooms. With a dedicated beat as their canvas, these storytellers ensure that every community’s voice is heard and critical issues are amplified… Through Report for America, journalists find not just a job but a calling—a perfect opportunity to make a profound difference where it matters most.”

So spread the word if you know someone who might answer this call to service, to serve the communities along the Mississippi River by as a local reporter. I cannot think of a more adventurous narrative for a journalist than covering the Mississippi River!

As Mark Twain described it, “The river is constantly turning and bending and you never know where it is going to go and where you’ll wind up.”