Keith Plunkett is the Creator, Founder and Publisher of Mississippi PEP.
Keith Plunkett first conceptualized MississippiPEP.com in early 2011 while working as Communications Director for a candidate in a hard-fought Republican primary for Lt. Governor. Later that year when circumstances further aligned, he put the initial idea into a more detailed plan.
Plunkett’s first experience as a writer was in 2002 with his hometown newspaper, The Flora Harvester. He would eventually becoming the owner and publisher just two-years later. Learning on the job in a small town, Keith says he became conditioned to look for opportunities to write about topics that entertained, informed, challenged and honored his readers and their values.
“I learned that the most talked about and read articles almost always have some degree of at least two of those four elements,” Plunkett explains. “That was the case whether the latest issue focused on municipal elections, a new business opening, sports coverage, or a feature article about influential people.”
“Entertaining someone is always one of the elements you want present on some level,” he adds. “But, you don’t want to be a sideshow. It’s important to be yourself and reveal your personality to readers, and that takes time. When interest in reading an article leads to getting lost in the dialogue as if in a conversation then that’s when a reader is in tune with the format. Once a person is easily relaxed with a writer’s rhythm of presentation they become open to hearing more than simple facts. They are then open to deeper explanation that challenges them to think. That is more than simple reporting. It’s true communication. If a writer has accomplished this then he or she is well on their way to finding a voice that resonates.
“Good writing is uniquely recognizable but, more importantly, it is trusted because it is credible.”
In 2006, Keith got a chance to use the credibility he had built with his first taste of how Mississippi’s political corruption conspired to run over local communities. He found details of a project being quietly planned by wealthy landowners in partnership with county and state economic development officials, a private foundation, the Mississippi Department of Transportation and members of Congress. The project was claimed to be about widening a state highway. In reality, the project’s first phase was to build a bypass around the small town of Flora and reroute traffic into a new big-box development, all of it to be funded by federal appropriations and federal grants.
”The historic downtown was on the cusp of seeing either a revival or a downward spiral,” he said. “A lot of time and effort had gone into keeping it alive during a time that the local economy was sputtering, and here were all these politically connected folks working behind the scenes to get federal government money to kill it off for good for their own personal profit.”
Keith found the maps and questioned officials at the Mississippi Department of Transportation to publicize how traffic counts didn’t actually support the widening project. He found the minutes and wrote of decisions made at regional and district planning development meetings that had been kept quiet from Flora’s residents about the real purpose of the project. He spoke at several town meetings called by concerned citizens, and butted heads with Madison County officials.
The result of his months of reporting was an informed public. The project had to be shelved as officials were caught having to explain themselves to residents, and eventually the project was killed-off completely. Today, the beautiful historic downtown of Flora, Mississippi is thriving with small businesses.
Keith has brought this same level of intensity to his work developing Mississippi PEP, peeling back the layers of federal and state projects and showing how the contracts awarded to allies of state politicians promote planning that keeps local residents in the dark and unable to mount opposition to the changes occurring in their communities. He has highlighted how politicians have maneuvered within government allowing more regulation and spending with little to no effort to stop or even slow the growth of government, all the while publicly speaking as if they were fighting it ‘tooth and nail.’
“It’s ridiculous,” Keith says. “These guys are saying one thing to the cameras and doing exactly the opposite behind closed doors and no one in the media has been calling them out for it. That isn’t the sole reason I decided to start Mississippi PEP, but once I realized how pervasive a problem the corruption truly is it soon became a primary focus.”