Donna Ladd is an award-winning editor, journalist and columnist from Philadelphia, Miss., who left the state the day after graduating from Mississippi State in 1983 and returned home to Mississippi in 2001 after 18 years away. She helped found the Jackson Free Press in 2002 in order to bring a progressive, diverse news source to the state and serves as CEO and editor-in-chief of the paper, BOOM Jackson magazine and a daily news website. She is also a freelance writer and columnist for The Guardian and gives popular talks to journalism and writing students, from Columbia and Medill/Northwestern to nearly every college in Mississippi. (See Selected Clips and Links.)
Ladd, the daughter of illiterate parents, received her B.A. in political science from Mississippi State University in 1983. She was one of the first members of her family to attend college and the first to earn a master’s degree, in 2001, from Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, where she studied journalism with a social-justice focus, focusing on discrimination against young people of color through studies in Teachers College, Columbia Law School and the Institute for Research in African American Studies with Manning Marable.
Ladd has won many awards for columns, political columns, editorials, feature writing and investigative work, and has shared in a number of public-service journalism awards for her work in Mississippi.
In 2014, Ladd was named one of 22 Kellogg Foundation Leadership Network fellows in Mississippi for training and assistance for her work affecting the status of vulnerable children in Mississippi, intersecting with the organization’s race equity and wealth inequality focuses. She hopes to use the fellowship to develop a model/toolbox for her Youth Media Project, which trains teenagers to both “be the media” and critique it, as well as help them develop professional, networking and other “soft skills” needed to excel in the workplace.
In 2011, Ladd was honored with a Fannie Lou Hamer Humanitarian Award, a Dress for Success Women of Strength Award in 2009 and the 2009 Angel Award from the Center for Violence Prevention for her work against domestic abuse. She is the recipient of the 2006 Friendship Award, along with Mississippi NAACP President Derrick Johnson, from Jackson 2000, a racial-reconciliation organization.
Her work at the JFP, especially on civil rights-era murders and Mayor Frank Melton, has been featured in national media, including Glamour and Reason magazines, CNN, NPR, Canada’s CBC, CBS Radio, the BBC, al Jazeera, among other outlets. In addition, her investigation of the murders of Henry Dee and Charles Moore was successfully used in the trial of former Klansman James Ford Seale. Her work has been discussed in many books, most recently “Racial Reckoning: Prosecuting America’s Civil Rights Murders” by Renee Romano (Harvard University Press).
Ladd is the former diversity chair of the Association of Alternative Newsmedia and has taught workshops on diversity, writing/reporting and opinion writing at Northwestern and Columbia universities and at conferences around the country. In 2001, she received a six-month Packard Future of Children fellowship to study the discriminatory application of school discipline on children of color and the cradle-to-jail pipeline.
Ladd lives in Jackson with her partner in life and business, Jackson Free Press Publisher Todd Stauffer, and three ornery boy-cats.