Savannah Swix

Lessons from the life of Donna Ladd

During last week’s lecture, we spoke with Donna Ladd, the co-founder and CEO of the Jackson Free Press. Not only did I enjoy hearing the stories of her life and how she got to where she is today in her career, but also because it helped me tie in a few things that we have been learning in class.

Ladd’s story of growing up in Mississippi during a time of intense discrimination and differing beliefs was so powerful to hear. The fact that she made the decision to study civil rights law because of what she experienced in her town is pretty amazing, too. Despite not sticking to practicing law, her change of direction into journalism still offered her the chance to pursue justice through investigating the truth and reporting the facts. She told us about what she went through while covering the complicated story about Frank Melton, the former mayor of Jackson, Mississippi.

She shared about the terror that she went through during the time surrounding her coverage of Melton. She said she even got an alarm system and invested in her safety for fear that someone might come to seek some kind of revenge against her for exposing details about Melton in the Jackson Free Press.

Her experience really brought to my attention how hardcore investigative reporting can be, especially in certain parts of the United States. It’s a wake up call to hear from someone like Ladd and be told a story so frightening and so real. I don’t believe I have ever had a conversation with another journalist who has encountered circumstances so severe and life-threatening.  

When she shared about why she was inspired to start the Jackson Free Press and how she started it, she said, “I did it because it was what I was drawn to.” That really resonated with me and what we have been talking about in class surrounding how startup ideas come to be. As we have learned, these ideas are derived from a need in your own life and also a need for other people. Ladd saw a need for a source of diversity in Jackson to report about everything, as well as an outlet that would offer that to people, so she created one and it has proven extremely successful.

She also spoke about learning and said that “We never know everything.”

This is very true of the journalism profession. I have covered many stories and worked on projects that have challenged me to go the extra mile and do the additional research and reporting to try and truly understand whatever the topic I am writing about or developing an idea for may be. In this field, we interact with people daily and face new experiences from which we often gain new skills and new perspectives. If you’re not learning something, take the time to reevaluate. Find a passion like Ladd found hers and with it, create something great.

One thought on “Lessons from the life of Donna Ladd

  1. Circling back to see which posts I missed earlier when I was responding. I really appreciated you asking about the Melton coverage — for one thing, it showed you had done your homework, which is so important in the world of journalism and business. The fear factor is always there in anything we do, and we can’t let it get in our way, even as we must be careful and observant (and make multiple copies of documents and hide them with people in multiple states, which I did then).

    I am passionate about my work, and I insist on doing specific work I’m passionate about at least a good portion of the time. And I find that presence helps with passion. I can enjoy almost anything if I’m fully present for it. Wish I’d known that in my 20s!

    Good luck!


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