Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Unlike many fellow Jacksonians, I actually look forward to the month of June, despite the impending heat and humidity. That's partly because it's Jubilee!JAM Month—and this year the Jackson Free Press was extremely pleased to partner with JAM to help get the word out about its return to Capitol Street and its emergence, once again, as a high-caliber downtown music festival. Word is it was extremely successful and has put the JAM organization on the footing it needs to continue bringing national acts to downtown Jackson. We look forward to being a partner with JAM for many years to come.
Another reason I love June (and the reason I didn't get to spend any time at JAM personally this year) is because it's the month when the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies holds its annual convention. AAN made the JFP a member of the organization in our first year of operation—a rare occurrence from the group that is known for harshly judging the editorial quality of prospective members. In 2003, we became the only member ever admitted from the state of Mississippi, which we remain to this day.
AAN comprises about 125 city weeklies across the country, from the Gambit Weekly in New Orleans and the Memphis Flyer in Memphis, Tenn., to papers such as the LA Weekly, the Village Voice and the Chicago Reader. Through our involvement in AAN we've gotten to know people who do what we do in cities around the country; some of them are great mentors for us, while others are big-time cheerleaders for the JFP and our work here in Jackson. In 2006, during the first convention she ever attended, Donna Ladd was elected to the AAN board of directors.
One of the things we enjoy most about the AAN convention is the writing and design awards. This year, the Jackson Free Press won three awards, bringing our four-year total to 14 awards from the Association—another rare achievement among member papers. That performance is a testament to Donna Ladd's ability as a writer, editor and mentor, and to the incredibly talented staffers and freelancers that we get an opportunity to publish at the JFP.
These awards are special to us in part because they're tough to win—the competition is fierce, and there's no "playing favorites" because the judges all come from outside the alt-weekly industry—most are from daily newspapers, national magazines and online properties around the country and the world. (And because the Mississippi Press Association won't allow us full membership so that we can compete for awards in our home state, it's nice to be able to gain national recognition for the hard work of our contributors.)
Of the three awards this year, we received one Third Place, one Second Place and one First Place. The Third Place went to Casey Parks in the Columns category for her series chronicling time spent in Africa with reporter Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times. Casey's experiences in Africa were remarkable, and her ability to put into words what she saw and relate those experience to her time spent in Mississippi auger well for this young journalist's career, which she is now pursing in Portland, Ore.
Donna Ladd, Adam Lynch and Brian Johnson shared our Second Place award in the Investigative Reporting category, given for their coverage of Frank Melton in 2006. These stories spanned Donna and Brian's Mobile Command Unit ride-alongs, their in-depth reporting on Melton's gun charges and convictions, and Adam's breaking story on the Ridgeway incident in September 2006. Reporting on a politician like Frank Melton is great work if you can get it, and even though our editorial board is a little weary of the lackluster performance by our emperor-mayor, the coverage of his foibles won high praise from judges.
The First Place award was conferred on Brian Johnson alone for his feature story "Deepest Midnight: Cedric Willis and the Failure of Mississippi Justice," which recounts Willis' criminal conviction and 12-year stint in Parchman for a crime that he didn't commit. As a first- place winner, the story will be published in the 2007 edition of the book "Best Alt Weekly Writing and Design."
I couldn't be more proud of Brian, Adam, Donna and Casey. To celebrate these 2007 wins and the recent issuance of the 2006 Best Alt Weekly book—which features Adam Lynch's 2006 First Place articles—we'll be holding a special reading and celebration on Friday, June 29 at 5 p.m. at the LemuriaBooks.com building, across the parking lot from Banner Hall. We'll have some munchies, free wine and cheap beer, as well as copies of the 2006 and 2005 Alt Weekly books for sale. Whether or not you want a signed copy, please stop by to celebrate these wins and to hear Adam and Brian read from their award-winning work and to meet Cedric Willis, who has said he'll be in attendance.
There's one particular reason that June 2007 is a less-than-exciting month for the JFP, as it marks the end of Brian Johnson's tenure as managing editor of the paper. Brian has been integral to the JFP's ability to provide cutting-edge news coverage over the past two years, and he's proven an excellent reporter, a wonderful radio personality and a very able manager in the newsroom.
Brian has a can't-miss opportunity to spend some time in New Zealand, work on the novel he's promised to finish and catch up on some other dreaming. We wish him the best and will miss him terribly. (As you can imagine, he's welcome to come back if the journalism-in-Jackson bug bites again.)
To send him off, we'll be hosting a special JFP Southern Fried Karaoke on Saturday June 30, starting around 8 p.m. in the Hal and Mal's Brewpub. Brian has even promised some new songs to accompany his now legendary crowd-pleasers "For Your Eyes Only," "Back in the USSR" and "On the Road Again" in honor of Mr. Melton. Come join us!
June is also National Gay Pride month! Swoosh! Ahh, we shall miss the Brian. Have fun in NZ!