Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Not everything about the JFP's first 10 years has been easy.
The Jackson Free Press launched in the fall of 2002, as I like to say, backed by some of the "largest banks" in the world--Chase, Citibank ... Discover--and has spent the last decade scraping and scrapping and pulling things together to get a paper out every week and a website up every day. We've gotten better at it--and more used to it--but it continues to be a battle and a blessing all at once.
From the outset, we've had wonderful people who've believed in us and made us better. While we always felt like we had the experience to put out a newspaper, it's been a learning curve when it came to building a sustainable business. We've learned a lot.
Donna likes to tell the staff the stories of my trepidation back when we were first getting started. Within three to four issues of our launch, we had an Anthony DiFatta painting of Trent Lott on our cover, criticizing and contextualizing the then-junior senator from Mississippi--and recent majority leader--for his comments praising Strom Thurmond's Dixiecrat run for the presidency.
I had paced and pounded the floor a few nights before press, talked to Tony on the phone and negotiated changes to his original painting of Lott. I ultimately won concessions on Lott's tie--Tony changed it from a Confederate battle flag to the Mississippi state flag, with the stars and bars in the knot--and on the letters "KKK" in the background, which Tony changed to "CCC" to better fit the story.
He also changed them so that I could get at least some sleep that weekend knowing that within six months of sinking everything I had into a newspaper in Mississippi--where I had lived all of a year and spare change--we had not put "KKK" on the cover. (Yet.)
We didn't shy away from criticizing Lott--fairly. It was around that time that I either coined or cribbed the phrase "Do the right thing ... and wait." That phrase would be tested just a few weeks later in March 2003, when we pulled an interview with the police chief from the cover in order to run a story to coincide with President Bush's announcement of our invasion of Iraq. The story was a package of the reasons why the war was a bad idea, including specific context regarding the lack of evidence of WMDs in that country.
Again, I paced. We lost three distribution spots that week (including one that was apologetic, but concerned it would upset his customers). But by the next issue, we weren't just still in business, but had sold more ads than ever up to that point.
A few months after that, in June 2003, I was thrilled and touched when we learned over the phone--because we couldn't afford to attend the conference--that we'd been accepted on our first attempt as a member of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (now "Newsmedia"), the first member from the state of Mississippi. We'd been vouched for by the folks in Memphis and lobbied for by Donna's former publisher in Colorado Springs. Our small, bi-weekly newspaper was given the nod, and we busted out the bubbly.
Since that time, the Jackson Free Press has been one of the most awarded weekly newspapers in the country, winning 26 writing and design awards in nine years of eligibility. (See page 28.) More recently, Donna and the team have been piling them on from the southeastern region of the Society of Professional Journalists as well. Unfortunately, the Mississippi Press Association won't let us in as full members because we don't require people to pay for copies of the paper.
Some of the most compelling awards have been for team coverage in the Public Service and Investigative categories, where the news staff has won awards for their body of work on Frank Melton, James Ford Seale, Two Lakes, Jackson Public Schools, domestic violence and the personhood campaign.
As we close out our 10th year, a few really exciting things are happening. We launched our new website--we call it JFP 3.0--this summer, nearly doubling our online traffic, including roughly one-third of our pageviews now coming through our revamped mobile site. (More updates on that one soon.) We're working on some other Web projects to roll out this fall including the bestofjackson.com overhaul and--well, you'll see.
Donna likes to say that we've now got the best team of staffers that we've ever had--we've had tons of wonderful, talented folks over the years (as you'll see in this issue, many of them recount their favorite JFP moments), but 2012 has found us with a team that has a special spirit and focus to reach for the "Why" statement we developed at a retreat earlier this year--to "connect our community through truth and the pursuit of excellence." That's the goal, and it starts anew this week with the first full-fledged redesign of the paper in our history by our tireless art director, Kristin Breneman, with help from her team and co-owner Stephen Barnette.
I've joked all along that we're a "low-profit" business. Still, we've grown revenues every year for the past 10, including during recessions and a massive disruption in the world of print news.
We hope to continue to grow by focusing on two fundamentals: (a) building a strong newsroom to serve our readers and (b) creating programs to effectively promote local businesses.
We serve the citizens of Jackson and its neighboring cities by uncovering the facts and offering the context that they don't have time to seek out themselves, and then presenting it in a format that's entertaining and enlightening. Whether it's on paper or computer screens or smartphones, we plan to be there.
With our staff of 19 full- and part-timers--and a team of fabulous freelancers--we're pleased to be job creators in the Jackson economy. We're now 52 weeks per year in print distributed in over 600 locations, plus four quarterly editions of BOOM Jackson magazine, five-days-a-week of JFPDaily.com and a 24/7 Web site. And we're thrilled to do our best to offer timely, relevant information to help you plan your evenings and weekends, and learn more about what's going on in your community.
We have a thriving small business and local media outlet. Did we "build it ourselves"? No. We've put in a lot of sweat and tears, but we've had tons of help from supporters, cheerleaders, advertisers and, most of all, our readers, who make the whole thing possible.
Together, we've all made a difference in Jackson and Mississippi in the past decade. I think that over the next 10 years, there's even more excellence, connection and community to which we can all aspire.
Thank you all for our first decade!
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