When the Going Gets Tough | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

When the Going Gets Tough

No doubt about it, these are scary economic times. Many people are losing jobs, some businesses are closing, consumers are holding tight to their dollars. It's a bizarre problem: We are in this mess due to greed and over-spending by just about everyone in sight, and we need to get out of it by having the confidence to spend again and know that it won't break our personal banks.

The symptoms and warning signs of spending like drunken sailors while living in a fragile bubble (first, the dot-com boom, then the mortgage scam) went ignored for so long that we are in an unprecedented place where people from all along the ideological spectrum know that our only real choice is for the government to stimulate the economy. We are in crisis mode now because we were not proactive then.

While Washington fights over how to stimulate us out of this mess, what do the rest of us do? It would be easy to fall into a depression, pardon the awful pun, and be stingy and selfish. It is also easy for corporations used to cushy profit margins to fling out pink slips left and right to try to reassure their stockholders, company morale and quality be damned.

I feel strongly that panic is exactly the wrong thing to do at this pivotal time. Pardon my optimism, but I believe this situation is inevitable; a lot of things are falling back to earth, mistakes are reversing, power bubbles are bursting.

In my own industry, people are in a tailspin over the "future of journalism." Newspapers are dead, many proclaim. No one wants good journalism in the age of Facebook and reality TV. Why bother trying to do good journalism?

My answer: Because it is the only kind that will survive this correction. Like many industries, such as retail, the corporate takeover of journalism has been a disaster. As your daily newspaper and TV and stations got less local, their quality dropped. The people making the decision about who stays, and who goes, and who covers a serious issue that might tick off an advertiser are in another state somewhere.

The corporate bosses can even lock out the publisher of a daily newspaper by pushing a few code numbers. (Ask one "local" publisher who got booted last year. If you can find him.)

Meantime, the corporate competition has been fierce, and not always unfair—whether it's from huge big-box retailers, coffee chains or huge media conglomerates. We've talked a lot about that in these pages from our first issue in 2002 when we started talking about "Think Global, Shop Local" (before followed us onto that bandwagon). The point is to think big and successfully while doing business with local people who, well, know your name and care about you as a real person.

When I spoke to a group of students this week at St. Andrews about the future of media, I said that it is "evolving," not "dying." What I mean is that the corporate Goliaths who have ruined good journalism are now paling next to the local Davids who have worked with the community rather than against it. And this isn't just in journalism—especially if we all do our part.

I'm feeling relatively Zen about this economic crisis because, well, I'm ultimately an optimist who believes "this too shall pass," if we work to help it pass.

I strongly believe that the key to weathering the crisis, or maybe even riding it like a wave, is to think as local as possible. We must look at the world around us with abundance in our hearts—not with stinginess in our eyes. We must help others succeed, dance with the ones who really care about us, bolster our local business community in every way possible. They are the ones who are there for us, the ones who don't have a corporation telling them to lay off people because the outlets out West aren't doing so well.

There is a message encoded inside this economic crisis. OK, several messages. The obvious one is that unbridled greed doesn't work. We need to regulate the free-market system, and we're going to. That is a mandate of the presidential election if we've ever seen a mandate. It's coming.

But the message I'm most fond of is that the corporatization of America is not working. We simply cannot put our fates in the hands of huge corporations that don't give a damn about their own people, much less the rest of us. The hubris of being big and amoral is simply out of fashion.

In my business, the Gannett-owned Clarion-Ledger has gone out of its way to hurt the Jackson Free Press, and other local publications such as Metro Christian Living, The Apartment Guide, Parents & Kids, and others—even telling our business-owner friends that we were in on a deal to pay them to distribute our paper that they had never talked to us about! The "TDN" strategy has clearly been a failure; a group of us got together and fought back, competing on our merits. In so doing, we got to know each other as friends, as fellow business people, as Mississippians who love our state. And none of our publishers can be locked out of their offices with the push of a corporate button.

Likewise, whether it's Jeff and Dan at Mangia Bene (this year's best locally owned business), or the hard-working family at Collins Dream Kitchen, or Kathy and Greg over at McDade's, or Jackson's best donut-man Mr. Scurlock in South Jackson, or any of the multitudes of local business owners we know and admire by name and reputation, it is the local folks who are invested in our community's abundance. They—we—are the ones who want to create locally, keep it in town and re-invest our success into bigger ideas. We are not here to appease shareholders in another state or to work for CEOs raking in mega-bonuses.

We are here to make our community the best it can be for us and our families. We are here to help each other succeed, and to mentor and inspire younger Mississippians to want to do the same.

There is no better time than the present to honor the local spirit. It is within each other, and this community, that we can create an abundant, exciting future for this city and state. I have a Chinese proverb hanging in my classroom here at the JFP: "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now."

Jackson, let's start digging. Together.

Previous Comments


Donna, Thanks for turning to this important issue. While I agree that your points are important, they do not address the underlying issue. The world is drowning in debt. The Federal Government's debt doubled in the last year to around $12 trillion, debt between banks in the form of commercial paper is near $50 trillion, debt in the form of derivatives may total more than $500 trillion world wide. Bush's 0.75 trillion TARP had no effect on stopping the implosion, and Obama's 0.9 trillion will likely fail, also. The debts are too large. It is necessary for each of us to learn how this mountain of debt was created in order to get a handle on the problem. We must learn the correct definitions of credit and money. (They are two different animals entirely.) Then we must learn how both credit and money are created. Most important, we must learn who benefits from their creation. The economy is falling into a liquidity trap. The actions of the Wall Street investment criminals who populated the Bush Administration and now reside in the current one may ignite a raging inflation reminiscent of Germany's in 1923. But there is a way out. View one minute of Dennis Kucinich for the “barest of bones” outline of what needs to be done at: http://votersthink.org/?p=1073. Thank you for your newspaper and your positive influence on us all, young and old! Tommy


I think we can stipulate the underlying issue, Tommy. ;-) Thanks for your post; it's great!


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