Our Founders


Jerry Mitchell

The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped lead to convictions of Klansmen guilty some of the nation’s most notorious crimes — the 1963 assassination of Mississippi NAACP Medgar Evers, the 1963 bombing of a Birmingham church that killed four girls and the 1964 slayings of three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andy Goodman and Mickey Schwerner. His work also led to the 2016 conviction of Felix Vail — the oldest conviction in a serial killer case in U.S. history. For more than thirty years, his stories have exposed injustices, corruption, and abuse of power. His work has prompted prosecutions, spurred reforms of state agencies, and led to firings of state board officials.

A winner of a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant and more than 30 other national awards, including being named a Pulitzer Prize finalist, his memoir about his pursuit of civil rights cold cases, Race Against Time, for Simon & Schuster, is expected to be released in 2020.


Ian Isaacs

For the past 15 years, Ian Isaacs has been a passionate supporter of investigative journalism. He served on the Board of Directors of the Center for Investigative Reporting in Berkeley, California, supported the work of Mimi Chakarova on her prize-winning documentary, “The Price of Sex”, and sponsored a fellowship in investigative journalism at Carleton College. His efforts led to the endowment of the Reva and David Logan Distinguished Chair of Investigative Journalism at U.C. Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. In 2009, he received the John Markoff Award for service to the Investigative Reporting Program at U.C. Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.

Mr. Isaacs has served on the Board of Directors of Greenlight Capital Re, Ltd., a publicly owned global reinsurance company since 2008 and also serves as a Director at Greenlight Reinsurance, Ltd. Isaacs received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Carleton College in 1977.

He lives in Sonoma County, California with his wife of thirty-four years and their two dogs.


Meet the Rest of Our Team


Debbie Skipper

Debbie Skipper, a New Mexico native and longtime Mississippi resident, is a 42-year journalism veteran. She was an award-winning reporter, feature writer and editor at The Anniston Star in Anniston, Ala. Before joining the Clarion Ledger in Jackson, Miss., in December 1982, she spent a month in Japan on a Hibakusha Travel Grant from the Hiroshima International Cultural Foundation. After interviewing atomic bomb survivors, their children, and local officials, she reported on their experiences for The Anniston Star and other publications.

At the Clarion Ledger she was an award-winning feature writer and health reporter before moving into editing. She supervised the work of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell that has led to the prosecution and conviction of numerous Klansmen in cold cases from the civil rights era. This work won Mitchell numerous national awards, including recognition as a Pulitzer Prize finalist. She was also the editor of "The AIDS Hope: Mississippi’s Despair" series, which won the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award Grand Prize, and "The System” series about the dysfunctional criminal justice system in Hinds County, for which she was honored with the Silver Gavel Award from the American Bar Association. She left the Clarion Ledger in January 2019 to join Mitchell at the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.

Shirley L. Smith
Investigative Reporter

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.


Ronnie Agnew
Board Chairman

Ronnie Agnew serves as Executive Director of Mississippi Public Broadcasting. He joined the network in 2011 after a career in the newspaper industry spanning nearly three decades. As executive editor of The Clarion-Ledger, he steered the coverage of the state’s largest newspaper, leading the publication to two Pulitzer Prize finalists and numerous other national awards. He has judged the Pulitzer Prizes four times and is a former diversity chairman for the American Society of News Editors. At MPB, Agnew oversees radio and television programming and the agency’s legislative, education and digital initiatives.

Agnew holds bachelor’s degrees in Radio/TV and English from the University of Mississippi. He is Vice Chair of the PBS Editorial Standards Review Committee and serves on the PBS Station Services, National Policy Advisory, and Diversity Advisory committees.

He is the father of three children.

Marshall Bush
Board Member

Marshall Bush is an analyst at ExodusPoint Capital Partners, a global investment management company. Originally from Tupelo, MS, he graduated from Dartmouth College in 1996 and has spent the last two decades working on Wall Street as an Analyst and a Portfolio Manager. Mr. Bush is a sixth generation Mississippian. He currently lives in Bedford Hills, NY with his wife and three daughters.


George W. Haywood
Board Member

George W. Haywood has been a private investor since 1998. Haywood previously held leadership roles with: Moore Capital Management (1994 – 1998) and Lehman Brothers (1982 – 1994). Haywood has been an Independent Director of Denny's Corporation since September 2011. He served as an Independent Director of Federal National Mortgage Association (2016 – 2018). Haywood has also held positions with a variety of nonprofit organizations such as St. Albans School, New School University, Mannes College of Music, Public Theater-New York Shakespeare Festival, and Poly Prep School. He is a former member of the Visiting Committee of Harvard College.

Haywood received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology from Harvard University (1974) and attended Harvard Law School. He lives in Washington, D. C.

Rhonda Schwartz
Board Member

Rhonda’s long and distinguished career in American journalism has been recognized with numerous Peabody, Polk, duPont, Edward R. Murrow, Overseas Press Club, IRE and Emmy awards. The longtime Chief Investigative Producer of the ABC News Brian Ross Investigative Team, she is now the Executive Investigative Producer for the Law & Crime Network. Schwartz and her investigative team won 4 duPont Awards, 3 Peabody’s, 4 Polk Awards, the 2014 Harvard Goldsmith Prize and more than a dozen Emmys for work that challenged the powerful and changed laws, uncovered corporate and political corruption, and exposed human rights abuses in the US and abroad.

Mrs. Schwartz lives in New York City.