Transitions | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS


When managing editor Maggie Neff walked into my office a couple months ago and closed the door, I sensed what was coming. She and husband J.P. were moving to Chattanooga at the end of the summer. I knew the time would arrive—Maggie had been straightforward the entire two years here that she and J.P. would likely leave Jackson at some point—but you always hope they change their minds.

These are moments business owners dread: A vital member of your team decides to leave to pursue a different interest or to give their partner a turn to do what he or she wants to do. It's hard. It's sad. It's life.

A good employee deciding to leave used to rattle me; I wanted to throw myself in front of the door and scream: "You can't go. Sorry. We need you. Jackson needs you." But I've learned to be Zen about it.

It has helped that the Jackson Free Press is blessed to attract remarkable staffers, with very few exceptions—people who don't come to work here just to get a (meager) paycheck or to watch the clock. They come to make a difference in the city and to grow and become the best they can be.

For instance, Casey Parks and Brian Johnson sat in Maggie's seat before she did: I can't imagine the JFP where it is today without any of them. They've all planted seeds to make the company what it is today; they are still part of the family, as far as we're concerned. Their fingerprints, and the fruits of their hard work and passion, are now part of our DNA.

I was fortunate to have someone in my sights when Maggie told me she was leaving. I had met Lacey McLaughlin months ago at a JFP Lounge at Pi(e). She was a reporter at the Madison County Journal, and she lived downtown and commuted to the suburbs. She had my attention.

I would get to know Lacey better as she showed up to volunteer with the Jackson Area High School Press Association (JAHSPA) and then to help with the Youth Media Project this summer. She wasn't hanging out here to try to get job; she was here because she is passionate about making a difference in the community and, especially, in young people's lives.

So when Maggie told me she was leaving, I e-mailed Lacey to see if she wanted to apply, and now she is the new assistant editor—my "number one" in "Star Trek" parlance—taking the full reins of the weekly paper this issue. She has been training with us for several weeks, and really got hazed last issue putting out the tedious "Jackpedia" while I was out of town, with Maggie's excellent tutelage, of course.

I had several good applicants for this position, but Lacey stood out for me because she was already walking the talk; she had shown me that she is passionate about journalism—she's not looking for a cushy PR job when the time gets tough—and she seems to know that your 20s are the time to pay your dues and learn your craft. She arrived with her sleeves rolled up, ready to learn and help the community.

This past weekend, I gave an inspirational talk to young reporters at Northwestern University in Chicago, and I told them that I do not fear the shrinkage that newspapers are experiencing (the JFP is growing, in fact). But I do believe it is time to get out of journalism if you do not really believe in what we're doing here. You need to be willing to kick ass every day to be the best. Regardless of the medium, people will always want real, compelling stories, and the editors and journalists who find, report, write and edit them.

Our stories may increasingly appear on the Web, but that doesn't mean just anything thrown online can take the place of real journalism. Or, of real journalists who are willing to pound the pavement and to dig for months to get the real and complete facts, and tell compelling stories that people can't put down. Or, of people who know the meaning and value of teamwork.

We are also saying goodbye to another vital team member this week: editorial designer Melissa Webster. Melissa started with the JFP as a design intern while she was still at Delta State University. She moved into Darren Schwindaman's spot when he left to start his own design business. And she has helped take our editorial design, and especially our covers and [FLY] sections, to a fresh new place. Melissa wants to pursue her art full-time, as well as take more classes, but she is not leaving Jackson and will continue as a member of the design team, doing freelance covers and illustrations.

Kristin Brenemen is moving into Melissa's seat. I met Kristin through Twitter several months ago and invited her to do a design internship with the paper. I liked her spirit and wit in 140 characters, and I like her even more in person. From day one, Kristin was creative, reliable, positive and clearly wants to work hard. She shows that vital passion for graphic design and is excited about freshening up the look of the paper in upcoming months, as well as reaching out to freelance illustrators and artists. (E-mail her at [e-mail missing] if you're interested). We will sorely miss Melissa, but we are thrilled to welcome Kristin to the JFP.

Thinking about these four women, one thing sticks out. They are all professionals who take their craft and their position seriously. I complimented Melissa just yesterday about how she and Maggie have handled this transition: They helped find replacements, and they have trained them well. They have prepared transition checklists, and as I type this, both are helping put out this issue on their very last day.

Melissa and Maggie have been fully present to the end; there is no "what are they going to do; fire me" attitudes that sour many employers on departing staffers.

As a result, I and others here will always consider them part of our team and will go to the ends of the earth to help them professionally, as they have done for us.

The next era of the JFP is about to begin with Lacey and Kristin at the creative helm. We are excited to see what happens next, and how their influence affects the JFP, and we are saddened to see two of our dear comrades move on.

Farewell, ladies, and thank you for making us a better paper.

Previous Comments


Donna-I think we've had this conversation before about "Leaving Well". These women are "leaving well" and that speaks to their character and integrity. You never know when you are going to go crawling back to your old employer and ask for a job (HINT: ME!!). That crawling isn't half as painful when you left well to begin with!

Lori G

Absolutely, Lori. I always tell staff members that the way they leave is as important as anything they did the entire time they were here, and most do a good job at it. That ensures good references and, more importantly, that employers will use their networks to help you in the future wherever you are. Occasionally, though, you get the person who is so self-focused that they think no one is telling the boss what they're saying about them, and think what they left undone (or lied about doing) when they were leaving is never going to be revealed! The worst, and I wish I could just sit each person down I see do this, are people I see on Twitter or Facebook whining about their co-workers or their boss. I had someone apply for a job with me after seeing that. Clearly, it's not someone I'm going to rush to interview. Even if you work with problematic people, the professional way to deal with it is to approach them and talk to them about it, not trash them in public. I would never hire someone I see do this. Or recommend them. All that said, Maggie and Melissa care about the staff and the company, and it showed the way they left. Other ambitious folks should take note. Never burn a bridge unless there's a damn good reason to.


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