Case Study

Mastering the funnel: How Mississippi Today maximized impact with ‘The Backchannel’ series

In order to maximize the impact of the investigation, Mississippi Today’s audience and editorial teams collaborated closely to create a meaningful distribution and engagement plan.

By Lauchlin Fields

November 8, 2023

A graphic created to promote "The Backchannel" after it won a Pulitzer Prize.

[This case study was published in The Lenfest Institute’s Solution Set newsletter. Subscribe here.]

In April 2022, Mississippi Today published the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Backchannel,”  an exhaustive investigation by journalist Anna Wolfe uncovering the depth of a sprawling welfare scandal that plagued the state. 

In order to maximize the impact of the yearslong investigation, Mississippi Today’s audience and editorial teams collaborated closely with Anna and her editors to create a meaningful distribution and engagement plan. We branded the series through compelling visuals and in-story graphics, created dedicated email alerts, and sent donation appeals tied to the investigation. 

Our plan followed our 10-point audience funnel approach to reaching, growing and engaging our audience at Mississippi Today. 

Mississippi Today's 10-point audience engagement funnel

I first developed this process in 2019 when we created a cross-departmental engagement team. Focusing on 10 levers — branding, SEO, social media, calls-to-action, surveys, texting, newsletters, content, events, and reader revenue — to grow and engage with our audience helped us streamline projects. 

The first part of the five-part series was published on April 3, 2022, but our editorial team shared their calendar and initial drafts in late 2021 to start discussing how text messages could be displayed in the story. This kicked off several calls and meetings over the next few months to discuss the presentation and roll out of the series.

This thoughtful planning, complete with collaboration on optimal search headlines and descriptions, helped in coordinating the distribution and engagement across various platforms. We then meticulously tracked key performance indicators to monitor progress toward our objectives.

Here’s how we approached each stage of the funnel:


Our plan leveraged multiple platforms to ensure broad reach and engagement. We published across social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), and created Twitter Moments and threads to promote the stories. We also utilized our mobile app, web push alerts, text alerts, and publishing on third-party platforms like Apple News and Newsbreak. 

By sending push alerts each morning a new story was published and creating a section on our homepage with a banner graphic and link to our branded series landing page, we maximized visibility for the series.

The April 2022 series received a total of 230,000 page views and 195,700 visitors, which accounted for more than 20% of our April 2022 traffic (1,131,654 pageviews) and users (415,359 visitors). Part one of the series alone had 108,000 page views and 94,000 visitors. 

Due in large part to the Backchannel series, our site had a more than 125% total increase in pageviews and users in April 2022 over the previous month.


We encouraged newsletter sign-ups to “be the first to know” about the latest developments in the investigation. We created a special alert newsletter that went out each time a new Backchannel-related story was published to alert readers on our full email list.

Our newsletters related to the series had a high average open rate of 35.6% (57% higher than our average open rate), and we gained a total of 973 new signups.

We were able to give our readers an up-close look at Anna’s extensive reporting through a Reddit AMA and a “You Asked. Anna Answered” YouTube video of her answers to readers’ survey questions.

Our audio player in stories also enhanced access to the stories.


The series helped generate $2,344 in one-time donations and $420 in pledged recurring donations.

We didn’t set specific goals for the project, but we closely monitored what we call our “funnel metrics” so that we could see how the series was resonating with our readers and create calls to action that pushed people through the funnel. The series clearly contributed to a high increase in traffic and newsletter signups, which led to about 75 donations specifically citing Anna or the welfare scandal as the reason for giving.  

Anna also personally crafted a member appeal, which detailed the significance of her investigation. This successful approach amplifies the importance of empowering journalists to engage directly with readers to build trust and loyalty.


In April 2023 — one year after the investigation was first published — we built our spring campaign around the theme of “The Backchannel: One Year Later.” We wanted to leverage the anniversary to retain donors who supported us because of the investigation and to appeal to new readers through our spring campaign. 

After we won the Pulitzer Prize in May 2023, we created another distribution and engagement plan 

We worked very closely with our editor-in-chief and CEO to create a detailed and seamless announcement, including a call-to-action to “toast Mississippi Today” with a small donation in recognition of the award.


Beyond the quantifiable outcomes, “The Backchannel” series made a significant impact by bringing to light the misuse of public funds by those in power. The comprehensive distribution and engagement strategy maximized the series’ reach and engagement, leading to significant public discourse and awareness on the issue.

The success of “The Backchannel” series distribution and engagement plan underscores the importance of a well-coordinated, multi-platform approach to maximize the impact of investigative journalism. 

Lauchlin Fields is Mississippi Today’s Audience Development Director.

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