Hearing Donna Ladd of the Jackson Free Press speak made me draw some satisfying similarities and also feel encouraged and empowered.
Satisfying similarities – Hearing Ladd talk about her humble start in life reminds me of my own. I didn’t grow up in Mississippi in the 60s as she did, but I grew up in Michigan in the 80s. I lived in a trailer for part of my life. Members of my family lived in trailers. The only example I had of journalism in my house was the local news. I didn’t know that was journalism, but I knew it was bad–whatever it was. There weren’t many books in my house. My parents actually helped me lie on my school reading sheets. My mom wasn’t illiterate, but she struggled with reading comprehension. I got into journalism later. I’m not saying it’s the same story as Ladd’s upbringing, but it’s not entirely different. I identify with it. These similarities are satisfying because they give me hope for myself and my own career.
Encouraged – I feel encouraged because Ladd has essentially done everything our readings have covered. She’s done it well and the success is longstanding and self evident. She saw what was missing and she sought to fill that hole in a meaningful way. She didn’t do it because she wanted to be her own boss or some other not-good-enough reason. She did it because she didn’t like what she was seeing in the world around her. She started the Jackson Free Press because it needed to exist. She researched the market thoroughly and found the audience. She reported stories that needed to be told. She was really damn innovative in her approach, too.
Ladd and her team allowed commenting on their news site before it was a thing. Before it normal. While her competitors scoffed that it was a bad idea. With this innovation suddenly the community and the audience could interact with their news, their stories, their community in a whole new way. And maybe, most importantly, Ladd and her team found a way to finance the JFP. Without that piece, they might not have been able to create the change they did and continue to do. I’m encouraged because here is a bright, real life example of everything we’ve been talking about and reading about. I’m encouraged because I’m seeing what’s possible.
Empowered – I’m empowered because Ladd is a woman in a male dominated industry making things happen. She’s proving that so many things can be done. Women can be in charge, have power, use it for good. Transparency and good reporting can be valued and rewarded. She told us to let people know our values–to let people know that we want to make something better. And she’s an example of that–what standing for your values can do for your community or your world. And she’s done all this as a woman in a world that makes being woman–with something to say and a vision–a daily battle. She’s shown us that change is possible. That people want what’s real. And that women can drive that change.