Since COVID-19 first reached Mississippi in 2020, our audience and editorial teams have worked together to build the most comprehensive coverage and resources for Mississippians. Critical to our mission was finding a way to provide Mississippians the vaccine information they need, how to keep it up-to-date as the pandemic evolves and what resources are necessary for readers to stay safe in one of the least vaccinated states in the country.
As the COVID-19 vaccine became widely available to the public this spring, the vaccination rate in our state quickly stalled. We couldn’t ignore the amount of misinformation causing hesitancy in the unvaccinated. Mississippi still has the second-lowest vaccination rate in the country and remains last in the number of vaccine doses given per capita.
To increase trust and strengthen impact, we knew it was imperative for people to hear from other Mississippians, some of whom were initially hesitant, about why they decided to get vaccinated. Our audience team worked with our healthcare and breaking news reporter to publish the inaugural episode of a new video series, MT Speaks, which featured five Mississippians and their experiences getting vaccinated.
We’re the only news organization in Mississippi providing comprehensive data elements — using data provided by the Mississippi State Department of Health — to help Mississippians visualize the changing trends in cases, deaths and hospitalizations. Data is a core pillar of combating misinformation.
The guide is a living document that we update as information changes. We’ve added back-to-school resources, such as databases of which districts are requiring masks and the number of cases reported in schools each week.
We thought innovatively about how to distribute the guide. We created an automated email course and displayed the guide in our newsletters. We’re using our COVID-19 text line to send daily case and vaccination updates.
Our downloadable, printable version of the guide is updated weekly to make it accessible to readers in parts of the state without reliable internet. According to Census data, only 71.5% of Mississippians have access to high-speed internet.
The guide has been rooted in listening to our audience to better understand what information they want and need. Several of the components have originated from surveys helping us build FAQs and allowing reporters to ask health officials and politicians the questions Mississippians want to know.