Since the JFP launched, we have found that people in Jackson like to talk about us. And they like to ask us questions. We assume this is because we're a different type of publication for Jackson and Mississippi—but, regardless, we appreciate all the curiosity. It finally dawned on us that we should use an old dot-com trick and do an FAQ for the Web site. That's short, of course, for "frequently asked questions." So here are the questions we recall being asked on numerous occasions—and the correct answers to those questions, as well as a bit of JFP trivia, should you care about insider baseball. We hope you find this mildly interesting—and feel free to e-mail us any other questions you're curious about.
Who started the Jackson Free Press?
The initial concept was a brainchild of Donna Ladd, Todd Stauffer and Stephen Barnette. Donna is a native of Neshoba County (Mississippi State), Todd grew up in Texas (Texas A&M), and Stephen is a Jackson boy (Southern Miss). After getting her master's at Columbia, and working on a project about her hometown of Philadelphia, Miss., Donna decided it was time to come on back home, and perhaps write a book. She and her partner in life and love, Todd Stauffer, chose the big city of Donna's youth: Jackson. They met Stephen because he lived in the duplex they rented in Belhaven. They then got to know JoAnne Prichard Morris, a book editor and the widow of Willie Morris, and she signed on to help immediately. Then Jackson State student and artist Felandus Thames introduced them to Jimmy Mumford, a new graphics design professor at Jackson State (Delta State grad) who signed on as art director. Felandus also introduced us to Charles Smith, who became our first photographer. Bingo Holman, then a manager at Hal & Mal's, took Donna's writing seminar and signed on as assistant editor. Artist Tony DiFatta volunteered to do the first cover. Herman Snell signed on to do the calendars and music listings. In the beginning, it was all volunteer.
What is your background in publishing?
Donna has a long background in alternative journalism. She was a writer for the Village Voice (the granddaddy of alternatives, in New York) for several years, and was the first editor of the Colorado Springs Independent. She is widely syndicated in alternative media. Todd's background is in both technology and publishing. He was editor of Texas Computing magazine and Digital New York, and author of dozens of computer books, including one of the early books on blogging.
Why did you start the JFP?
Because there was a serious void for a real, locally owned alternative newspaper here. We didn't plan to start a paper when we came back, but we recognized almost immediately that Jackson could undergo a serious cultural and creative renaissance such as we'd seen in other cities, if people could just find each other and put aside all the negativity and lack of confidence in the city. It severely needed a community, and a diverse one, and no publication in town was promoting such a community. Most of the papers didn't (and don't) even have "Jackson" in their names! Having worked in community and alternative publishing for many years, we knew that strong communities need a strong, locally owned, community voice. And, frankly, Stephen wouldn't stop bugging us about it once we started talking about it. He was the primary catalyst: a young man just out of college with amazing talents who wasn't leaving Mississippi. He wanted to stay and fight for his state to be all it could be, and to help it take advantage of its diversity, instead of letting it divide Mississippians. He inspired the JFP more than anyone else.
How did you come up with the name Jackson Free Press? What does it mean?
Here's some trivia: The original ideas for names were Jackson Weekly and Jackson City Paper! But while reading up on the history of the media in the state, we ran across a bit about the Mississippi Free Press, the newspaper that a coalition of black and white civil rights activists, including Medgar Evers, had started in the 1960s on Farish Street (which was an alternative to both black and white media of the time). From that second on, we knew the paper would be called the Jackson Free Press. (Trivia: As far as we can remember, the first person to call us "the JFP" was Shannon Thornton of Hal & Mal's at a Pub Quiz. The nickname quickly stuck.)
The name means whatever people want it to mean. We're free (distributed), and we're a free and open marketplace of ideas. And, importantly to us, we are free of control by large entities.
What does "alternative" mean?
It's simple really: It means that an alternative, or an "alt," is an alternative to the existing media in an area—which, increasingly, are corporate and non-local, poorly written and designed, or unwilling to devote resources and time to doing the important stories.
When did the Jackson Free Press start?
We launched a preview issue on Sept. 22, 2002, which would have been the 78th birthday of Donna Ladd's mother. The entire publication has been dedicated to "Miss Katie" from the very beginning. She was illiterate, but pushed Donna to read everything she could and learn to write well, as well as taught her to believe that everyone is equal. Therefore, it seemed appropriate to dedicate this type of publication—dedicated to literacy and diversity—to a woman who believed in both concepts so thoroughly. We believe the spirit of Miss Katie guides the JFP daily; her bubbly spirit and optimism certainly is the tone in the workplace.
Why did the paper start as a bi-weekly?
We started the JFP, quite literally, on a kitchen table. That is, we didn't have a lot of money behind us, so we decided we would grow the paper slowly and steadily, as readers and advertisers learned what we were about and grew to understand our positive message for Jackson. Our growth happened quickly, though—our advertising has grown steadily since we launched, peaking (so far) in a 48-page Best of Jackson issue in January 2005.
Why are you a free publication?
Because that's really the only way to succeed in today's marketplace! Publications succeed or fail off of advertising, not what people pay for the publication. Most newspapers and magazines are lucky if newsstand price pays for the cost of the paper! The truth is, free circulation (or "controlled circulation," as it's called in the biz) allows publications to grow circulation larger and faster. Many dailies across the country are starting to distribute for free, as their circulation drops in competition with locally owned weeklies like ours and the Internet. Don't be surprised if The Clarion-Ledger becomes free someday soon; it is already distributing various sections for free in boxes and "forced" into people's yards. That's a sign of competitive stress from free publications.
But it is important to add that our readership is audited by Media Audit, which shows detailed comparisons between the Jackson Free Press and other Jackson media large enough to be audited. Advertisers should contact publisher Todd Stauffer for a presentation: [e-mail missing]
What is your distribution?
Our print run is 17,000 per week, which our 2006 Media Audit showed amounts to about 52,000 readers because more than one person reads each issue, on average. In certain high-traffic spots, we redistribute mid-week. The 2007 Jackson Market Study, commissioned by The Clarion-Ledger, showed that the Jackson Free Press has 64,332 readers. Call the publisher at 601.362.6121 ext. 3 to have backup materials faxed.
Where are you distributed?
We're in more than 425 locations throughout the Jackson metropolitan area and Vicksburg. In Jackson, we have boxes and racks in key locations, including multi-boxes with eight other Mississippi Independent Publishers Alliance members at convenience stores, grocery stores and gas stations throughout the metro area. We are distributed in every zip code in this area, which most other publications cannot claim. Write the publisher at [e-mail missing] to become a distribution spot or to find out where the paper is distributed near you.
What day do you publish?
Our publication date is every Thursday. However, we are usually on the streets in parts of the city a day on Wednesday afternoon. But if a breaking story merits it, we may occasionally publish on our actual publication date!
When did you go weekly?
May 2004. We intended from the beginning to be weekly if our revenue growth allowed it. We can be a more immediate source of news and entertainment coverage as a weekly. Besides, we were admitted to the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies six months after launched, so the pressure was on! The move to weekly was perfect timing for us. We did it just a couple weeks before The Clarion-Ledger pulled out its Weekend section into a standalone to compete with us, and that hasn't hurt us at all. And our advertising has continued to grow as a weekly, and our page count has been about the same as a weekly as we were as a bi-weekly. We have fully dispelled any myth that our quality and high page/advertising count is because we only came out every other week!
How do you decide how many pages to print every week?
It depends on the advertising formula and any particular editorial needs. We never print a publication with under 40 percent advertising.
Why do you staple the paper?
This is called "stitch and trim" in the business. Initially, it was a creative and a business decision. Because we use so many different artists to do fine-art covers, we didn't want a white border to distract from the artwork. From a business standpoint, in the beginning, we needed to distinguish ourselves from other tabloids in the market. That's not really an issue now that we've become the market leader, but our readers really seem to like the stitch-and-trim look, saying it makes the paper hipper and more like a magazine. Therefore, our readers are in charge. Should we ever consider changing it—it is a bit of a burden; see below—we would do some serious reader focus groups before making the change.
Where are you printed?
Since just before we went weekly last May, we've been printed by the Tuscaloosa News, the daily newspaper in Tuscaloosa. Ala. Our printing journey has been a bit of a saga, due to the stitch-and-trim issue and because the number of printers is shrinking due to the industry going corporate. Our first printer was Websouth on Mill Street. They printed our preview issue and were delightful to work with—we loved going to the plant and watching it come off the presses. But their presses were old, and they just weren't up to the challenge of doing our type of sophisticated publication, with its emphasis on color, fashion spreads, and the stitch and trim. No other printer in Jackson could do our publication (although they can do unstapled tabloid newspapers). So we reluctantly decided to use the Colorado-based Inter-Mountain Color (IMC), the same printer that Donna worked with in Colorado and that many other Mississippi publications use—and the only printer in the state who could staple us. At that point, IMC had a plant in Kosciusko that it later closed and moved to Hattiesburg. IMC is a decent printer and can handle the basic demands of the JFP, but the service was a bit too corporate for our tastes. If there was a problem, we had to talk to Colorado. In 2004, we switched to the Tuscaloosa paper, which does not take as long to do the stitch-and-trim—and we can deal with southerners and newspaper people when we have a concern. (And they understand southern hospitality—they sent us a beautiful framed plate of our 2005 Best of Jackson issue!) The Tuscaloosa paper is owned by the New York Times company, but we don't have to deal with New York—ever. And that's a very good thing.
Why do you pick on The Clarion-Ledger?
Because they are owned by a corporate giant, the Gannett Corp., that is anything but local. The international newspaper company can afford to, and does, squelch local, independent community voices. And we prefer to call it critiquing. In fact, we also applaud the statewide newspaper when it does something right—which is a sign of whether someone is criticizing for the wrong reasons or not. Alternative newspapers exist, in part, as an alternative to corporate newspapers. We are the Davids to their Goliaths, and it's very important that we try to keep them on track. A fun little phrase in our business is the "megaphone effect"—the biz phrase for a smart publication that the people who run the larger media pay attention to. We're firmly established as that. In fact, we count as our many supporters a number of editors and writers at The Clarion-Ledger who tell us that what we do helps them make a case for what they want to do better.
Why don't you criticize other media as much as The Clarion-Ledger?
Several reasons. For one, we believe that, by default, The Clarion-Ledger is the paper that other mass media will follow if they improve their coverage. It's also headquartered in Jackson (to its credit, it hasn't bolted elsewhere). However, we hope to do more critique of other large media outlets, especially television and corporate radio, because they have a wide reach as well. As for smaller publications, most aren't worth the effort due to their limited readerships. People are smart enough to know when papers aren't credible and don't take time to do real research. Amazingly, though, they will believe anything they see on television. Go figure.
Who are your writers?
We are proud to boast the most diverse and largest pool of local writers of any publication in town. Since the beginning of the JFP, we have looked for and trained local talent to write in alternative style—which is more focused on good writing and detailed reporting than traditional media or small community papers and beer rags. In any given issue, you will find more compelling stories and features in the JFP than in any other media outlet—and they are written by local writers and interns, many of whom never published before they appeared in the JFP. We have writers, artists and photographers from, literally, every college in the area, and many of the high schools, public and private. Most other local publications have a much higher percentage of wire and non-local content (not to mention press releases) than the JFP—because we are devoted to discovering and published a wide variety of local talent and voices. Only one other local paper routinely has a lower percentage of wire/syndicated content—and that's because The Northside Sun fills much of its space with pictures of people—local, to their credit.
We use the occasional story from another AAN paper, which is a common practice throughout the AAN world, allowing us all to print the best alt stories and columns in the country, and to, quite frankly, fill a hole at the last minute when a story doesn't come in. We like to say that we are locally run, nationally connected. As part of AAN, we also occasionally participate in association-assigned large, breaking investigative pieces that expose our readers to a big, important story that we wouldn't be able to present on our own.
Most exciting to JFP writers and artists, other AAN papers have started buying stories and art from JFP talent, most of whom had never published before the JFP. These publications include, to date, The Village Voice, Gambit Weekly (New Orleans), The Memphis Flyer, the Colorado Springs Independent, and other papers from Tampa, Fla., to Buffalo, N.Y.) This exposure is very exciting for our talent and good for their portfolios. And it makes Jackson look good and helps dispel stereotypes about the state.
Do you pay freelance writers?
Yes. In the beginning, everything in the JFP was done volunteer. However, as we've grown and brought in more revenue, all of which is re-invested in the paper, we have steadily expanded how we pay freelancers, depending on the difficulty of the reporting. Write [e-mail missing] for freelance guidelines.
Why do you use so many interns?
We are strong believers in both fresh, young voices, and in the need to use our expertise to train young writers and artists and help them build impressive portfolios and networks. Our internships are on-the-job training programs focused on the area that the intern is most interested in learning more about. They are intensive with high professional standards to best prepare them to enter the publishing world if they choose to. We want to help send young Mississippians out into the media industry prepared to work among the best, and we do everything we can to prepare them and then to help them get good jobs and freelance work once their internship is completed. Many of our internships are direct referrals from either the intern's parents, or from their teachers, because they believe young people will benefit from interning at the JFP.
You mention AAN a lot. What is it, and why is it important?
AAN is the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. It is an elite association of alternative newspapers from most major cities in the U.S. and several in Canada. It is a trade organization, in essence, but membership is competitive. The association is very selective: only alts that meet high standards are accepted. Those standards include excellent writing, detailed and in-depth reporting, strong cultural reporting (not stories that sound like press releases), the best event calendars in a readership area, strong graphics and original photography, and the determination to ask important questions and challenge mainstream media to do the same. It is also vital that AAN papers maintain strong journalistic ethics. The JFP was fortunate to get into the association on our first try, after we'd only been publishing six months. Some papers try numerous times before they're admitted, or are never admitted if they do not maintain the standards demanded by the group. The JFP is the first and only member of AAN in the state of Mississippi, although others have tried and been rejected.
Also, AAN has so helped us so far. Beyond members offering us free and cut-rate prices on stories to help us during our transition to weekly, we have been one of two papers in the country to get diversity grants from AAN three times, first for Ayana Taylor, and then for Thabi Moyo and Melishia Grayson. And Ayana and Natalie Collier were accepted to the prestigious alternative writing workshop last summer at Northwestern University's Medill journalism school—one of 10 people in the country to get in. The association also helps track competitive news on corporate media and what they're trying to do to kill small papers such as ours—information that is invaluable to our business planning.
Also, AAN awarded us two national writing awards the first year we were eligible (2004)—3rd place for column writing and 2nd place in music criticism. In 2005, the JFP won 1st place in feature writing and news writing/short form and 2nd place in food writing—only the L.A. Weekly won more first-place awards than the JFP! As of 2007, the JFP has won 14 writing awards from AAN.
You mention journalistic ethics. What exactly do you mean?
This includes many components. However, the ethic probably most violated by small newspapers (and unfortunately some larger ones) is what we call in the industry "the wall between church and state." What that means is that editorial and advertising must remain distinctly separate. In other words, the JFP will neverrun a story about an advertiser because they advertise. We will never promise an advertiser that we will write about them if they advertise. We may write about an advertiser, but no more often than we write about non-advertisers. Our fashion spreads contain a mixture of advertisers and non-advertisers, as do other features in the book. Our dining guide, on the other hand, is an advertising feature only—no editor is involved in the gathering, writing or preparation of those blurbs—and the feature is clearly marked "Advertising" at the top. And we would never use the unethical phrase "advertorial" for a story promised to an advertiser, as some other Jackson publications do.
Our account executives are professionally trained to know never to suggest that we will violate this code of ethics, and to explain to advertisers that quality publications would not offer such an unethical deal. Beyond the obvious dishonesty of such a sales strategy to the readers—it does not help the advertiser. Why not, you may ask. Because our readers are smart enough to know that bought-and-paid-for editorial cannot be relied upon. An advertiser is much better off placing an ad in an honest, respected, fun, well-produced publication that people like to read than having an ad next to a bought story on the same topic. Readers just know better—and will be loyal to publications that respect their intelligence (and they will then frequent their advertisers). This is a standard that is required by every code of journalism ethics—but violated way too often, either out of naivete or greed. But it never pay off either for the paper or the advertiser in the long run.
Beyond that, we have a long list of ethical standards, which include never doing e-mail interviews, ethical newsgathering techniques, never running a press release as a story, forthrightness and so on. If we're writing about a restaurant, we don't tell them in advance (unless we're interviewing someone for a feature.) Anyone with a question about our code of ethics is welcome to e-mail [e-mail missing].
You also say you're in the Alternative Weekly Network. How is that different from AAN?
AWN is related to AAN, but is different. It's a national advertising network of alternative papers, most of which are members of AAN. If there isn't an AAN paper in a city, though, AWN will sometimes allow another paper (that may not meet AAN standards) to participate in the network until an AAN paper enters the market. That happened here in Jackson; another weekly was allowed to participate in AWN—until JFP became a weekly and applied for full AWN membership. At that point, the association dropped the other weekly in favor of an AAN paper.
The advantage of AWN membership is that we occasionally are part of national ad buys—which can be for anything from beer to entertainment to technology. Probably the most vital point about both AAN and AWN to our readers and advertiers is that they are important national connections—editorial and advertising—that helps expose our paper, our writers, our business community and our city to a national audience. And that helps us all: We're locally owned, nationally connected, and we're very proud of both those facts.
Feel free to ask us other questions; we'll continue to update this FAQ as new ones come in. Send questions to [e-mail missing].
Updated November 2007