Hello, and Goodbye | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Hello, and Goodbye

I've never been great at goodbyes. When I meet people I dig, I want them around. But I've learned that a life filled with interesting experiences and people does mean, sometimes, saying goodbye. Since I've been in the weekly newspaper business, I've figured out that putting out a dynamic, fresh newspaper means embracing change, even when it makes one a tad grumpy.

And when great JFP staffers decide it's time to move on, I get a little down.

By now, anyone paying attention in Jackson knows that my amazing managing editor, Brian Johnson, left a few weeks ago, to stop off in California (where's he blogging daily for us) and then to move on to New Zealand to finish a novel or some such silliness.

It's hard to express how much the JFP, and Jackson, will miss Brian. He came in as a freelance copy editor and quickly grew to managing editor, after Casey Parks left us to conquer the world (and now report full-time for The Oregonian, the daily in Portland).

Brian is brilliant, a quick wit, an amazing writer, a pleasure to work with even on deadline, and a man who cares deeply for those less fortunate. All that made him perfect.

He also learned very quickly how to write and report on a level that many journalists never reach after years of experience. He won a national award for his Cedric Willis tour-de-force, and was part of our three-pronged team that won an investigative reporting award for our team coverage of Mayor Frank Melton.

It's hard to imagine the JFP without him.

I also have to announce another tearful goodbye. I was in Chicago a couple weeks ago to teach at the Academy for Alternative Journalism at Northwestern University and had dinner with Assistant Editor Natalie Collier, who was one of 10 people admitted to the academy this summer. She looked beautiful as always with her hair wild and loose. She was already known as The Class Wit.

At dinner, she told me something I had suspected: She's decided to try big-city life and live outside Mississippi for the first time. Losing Natalie is like a chisel through the heart, but I get it. I remember running from Mississippi the day after I graduated from State, thinking I was never coming back.

We'll always be here, I told her. Let's focus on getting you set up in Chicago. Then we ordered another round of margaritas.

At a newspaper that strives, specifically, to engage young Mississippians and to make them feel welcome and needed in their own state, it's painful to let them go. But there is another goal that I brought to the JFP—to help send young Mississippians out there confident and prepared to take on the world.

If the list of accomplishments of our former staffers is any indication, that is happening. I wish I could take credit for these bright lights who are single-handedly changing people's minds about our state, but I can't. This state is packed with sheer talent and progressive passion that just needs an outlet.

I think back to advice that Hodding Carter III gave me after I sent him the first copy of the JFP nearly five years ago: Find new voices, and give them space. A good paper isn't just about the past, or established writers.

I remember, early on, talking to an established literary type in Jackson who was flipping through the paper. She paused on page 4 where we always highlight the faces of our contributors. "Who are all these people!?" she asked—but with a bit of awe and admiration.

"Jackson's future," I responded.

They are also America's future—and it's a future that needs to be forged with the help of young southerners and by those who get to know the South, and in a way that Trent Lott and Haley Barbour don't always brag about.

That brings me to Matt Saldaña, the non-southerner of this bunch, and another one leaving us next week. I first met Matt, a third-generation Mexican American, at the AAJ workshop last summer. Remarkably, he liked how hard I was on their writing—demanding more reporting and heavy rewrites—and wrote in December wanting to come down here and train in what we're now calling the "JFP Boot Camp."

He's been a visiting reporter for six months, covering the James Ford Seale trial, interviewing in Spanish, writing cover stories, fending off anti-immigration and anti-Latino rhetoric on the JFP Web site. Since Brian left, Matt has filled in as managing editor. He's packed a lot into six months, and even has a big scar on his right leg to prove it.

And truth be told, he's seen the best and worst of this state while he's been here. He's seen an old Klansman apologizing to the families of black men he helped murder, and he's seen otherwise "progressive" people belittle immigrants and demand that babies born in the U.S. be deported. "Those attitudes aren't just in Mississippi," I like to remind him.

I'd argue that Matt is taking away something valuable from our state—a complicated world view that knows that not every Mississippian is a racist, but that extremes can be more extreme in places where education is lacking. That complexity is something that alludes both sugar-coating Mississippians and "outsiders" who think we're all-Klan, all-the-time.

I think that knowledge will make him a better reporter and a better person.

Alas, when certain doors close, others open. I am thrilled to announce a new Dream Team joining Ronni, Adam, Nientara, Darren and our stellar interns in the newsroom.

Maggie Burks, a lifelong Jacksonian and a Murrah/Power APAC grad, joined us this week to take over the top editor's position—to be my No. 1, as I like to call that spot. She is a senior at Mississippi College, and won me over in her cover letter with her talk of the problems with corporate media, and passionate comments about the need for "muckraking". She is starting her stint here directing the print version of Jackpedia, our user-generated guide to Jackson, hitting the streets Aug. 15. (Go to jackpedia.com to make sure your favorite stuff is included.) Next week she takes both reins from Matt, and moves into her new office.

Helping her and me will be editorial assistant Kelly Smith, a transplant from Florida with a master's in literature and a love of alt media. And we have named Andi Agnew as our new music editor after months of watching her turn in sparkling music stories.

Saying goodbye is hell, but it sure helps to have chicks like these on deck.

Join us to say adios to Matt Saldaña Friday night at 8 p.m. at Hal & Mal's in the Oyster Bar.

Previous Comments

ID
75148
Comment

Where's my margarita? I'm proud to death of Natalie, but HEY! Honey? Who's going to take me to Seven now?

Author
emilyb
Date
2007-07-25T20:26:26-06:00
ID
75149
Comment

We'll miss you, Matt. You've lit a fire under this place since you showed up. Natalie, NOOOOOOOOO! Shoot me an email. I would like to keep in touch with you.

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2007-07-25T22:45:28-06:00
ID
75150
Comment

I'm glad that all of you enjoyed your experiences with the JFP. While we hate to see you go, I do hope and pray that bigger doors will open for you. Good luck and Godspeed!

Author
golden eagle
Date
2007-07-26T06:47:38-06:00
ID
75151
Comment

I thought Natalie, although young, was too mature to let the bright lights and big city talk to her. I will miss you Natalie and expect you to grow wiser and smarter before returning. You did a good job, Matt. Don't worry about the illegal charged with capital murder I have already saved him from the death penalty. Brian, Matt and Natalie will all be back. You can't partake of Mississippi then leave it forever. It's like a good girlfriend, talks a little too much, nags regularly, and causes you to wonder whether you can do better. After a while, you relalize I need to get back with her.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2007-07-26T08:23:07-06:00
ID
75152
Comment

I'll miss Natalie!!! The karaoke, the great essays & stories, and her amazing vocal group. Dang! Why does parting have to be so hard? Good luck, Natalie, I hope you have a blast in Chicago!

Author
Izzy
Date
2007-07-26T08:33:26-06:00
ID
75153
Comment

Izzy, we are counting on Natalie continuing to write; same for Brian and Matt, as they want to.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-07-26T08:44:30-06:00
ID
75154
Comment

Y'all, remember to come Friday night at 8 to Hal & Mal's Oyster Bar to say goodbye to Matt. When Natalie comes back in August, we'll do a party for her then. Will let you know.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-07-26T08:45:12-06:00
ID
75155
Comment

Yes, Natalie did write good stories. She has enormous potential, and I'm hopeful she will become one of those brillant sisters I see on CSPAN discussing various issue of importance to the world and black folks on culture, race, politics, womanhood, et al.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2007-07-26T08:50:47-06:00
ID
75156
Comment

Emily, I'll take you to Seven! I am going to miss Natalie, Matt, and Brian too. They really did a lot to make the JFP what it is today. I am proud to be part of it now myself -- thanks for the kind words Donna. :) I'm excited to see what's going to happen with all these new chicks around! (andi)

Author
music chick
Date
2007-07-26T09:21:19-06:00
ID
75157
Comment

Y'all, remember to come Friday night at 8 to Hal & Mal's Oyster Bar to say goodbye to Matt. Oops, got a family reunion this weekend. I'll just say bye from here. Bye. :-) When Natalie comes back in August, we'll do a party for her then. Will let you know. Okay, thanks.

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2007-07-26T09:44:09-06:00
ID
75158
Comment

I see the JFP as a band of angels, all having one BIG wing and as long as you embrace eachother, all will continue to fly. This does not mean that you will not experience distance and seperation: This is all a part of how we grow from those who taught us to walk and those who must watch as we walk away. The moral of this story is: Angels, continue to FLY!

Author
justjess
Date
2007-07-26T09:49:25-06:00
ID
75159
Comment

This does not mean that you will not experience distance and seperation: This is all a part of how we grow from those who taught us to walk and those who must watch as we walk away. I know, and you're so right. I look at it as the JFP family just keeps growing.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-07-26T10:01:05-06:00
ID
75160
Comment

Y'all, remember to come Friday night at 8 to Hal & Mal's Oyster Bar to say goodbye to Matt. When Natalie comes back in August, we'll do a party for her then. Will let you know. I'll try come, but I know it won't be at 8. It may be closer to ten before I can come.

Author
golden eagle
Date
2007-07-26T10:08:11-06:00
ID
75161
Comment

Let's call it 8 until 10 p.m. at least, probably 11.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-07-26T10:09:39-06:00
ID
75162
Comment

I will try to stop by after the Jonezetta show at Swell-o-venue. Seeing how they do not serve alcohol at Swell-o, I'll probably be a bit... ahem... thirsty after a couple of hours. :)

Author
music chick
Date
2007-07-26T10:46:35-06:00
ID
75163
Comment

Seeing how they do not serve alcohol at Swell-o, I'll probably be a bit... ahem... thirsty after a couple of hours. :) They don't serve booze? Sounds like a dream. Where is this magical place? :-)

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2007-07-26T11:41:38-06:00
ID
75164
Comment

:) It's the Swell-o-Venue that is part of the "Chane Compound" (Wilai, Studio Chane, Swell-o-phonic, etc.) over by Cups in Fondren. Friday will be my first time there. Stay tuned and there will be more info about it in the future...

Author
music chick
Date
2007-07-26T12:31:32-06:00
ID
75165
Comment

You people are wonderful. I got teary-eyed reading the nice things you all have said about me. Actually, I'm still teary-eyed. Donna, I look forward to your coming back so we can get another margarita (or two). I wish you could bring the bloggers with you when you head back this way in a couple weeks. I am breaking out of Jackson, but it's not by any means a "Whew, can't wait to get out of here" departure. I love Jackson wholeheartedly. I learned a lot about life and love and folks during my time there. Similar to your analogy, Ray, I've long since thought of Jackson as a partner ... a man, though. I often tell people it's the only man who never did me wrong. That makes the decision to leave a sad one. But I look forward to breathing new pollution and learning even more lessons about life and God in a new environment. Wouldn't CSPAN be fabulous? You know somebody, Ray? Hook a sister up!

Author
nacollier
Date
2007-07-26T16:07:47-06:00
ID
75166
Comment

Ok, Natalie, I'll have my people at CSPAN get with your people.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2007-07-26T17:24:45-06:00
ID
75167
Comment

Hi Donna, Very nicely written and obviously straight from your heart. I understand how letting go can be painful and admire that you do so by celebrating those who are expanding their horizons while also warmly opening your arms to the newbies. This approach to living and being with others is a great way to keep life full of aliveness and even more meaningful, eh? BKS

Author
BKS
Date
2007-07-26T19:32:53-06:00
ID
75168
Comment

...fending off anti-immigration and anti-Latino rhetoric on the JFP Web site ...and he’s seen otherwise “progressive” people belittle immigrants and demand that babies born in the U.S. be deported. Definitely couldn't leave those 2 points out. Poor Matt. We're sorry you weren't shielded from reality but rest assured, you'll be missed. ;]

Author
SourBEAR
Date
2007-07-30T08:36:11-06:00
ID
75169
Comment

Not a chance, SourBEAR. He didn't come here to be sheilded, but it is too bad that a few people out there help Mississippi earn its bad rap.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-07-30T08:48:09-06:00
ID
75170
Comment

I agree donna, regardless of who is defining "few people out there help Mississippi earn its bad rap".

Author
SourBEAR
Date
2007-07-30T08:51:12-06:00

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