Meet Contemporary Media, Inc.: Jackson Baker
Meet Jackson Baker: Senior Editor and Political Writer, Memphis Flyer, and contributing editor, Memphis magazine.
1. What does your position entail? Mainly, I keep an eye on the politicians and political trends of people in this city, this county, this state and even — during presidential-election years and the run-ups to them — this nation. I monitor the pace and progress, the ideas (or lack of them), the intentions (good, bad, or indifferent), the deeds (dastardly or divine) and the avenues to power (whether high road or low road) of the men and women who would lead us. And to keep an eye on those whom we’ve already deputized to do so. In short, as the Flyer’s politics editor and political columnist since 1990 (yep, it’s really been that long), my beat is politics and politicians. I stay busy, especially in the three years out of every four when there are regularly scheduled elections in these parts. But, increasingly, in the so-called “off” years. Since about 1995, when I was named senior editor (the first Flyer staffer to hold that title), I’ve also had responsibility for editorials in the Flyers’ op-ed pages. As contributing editor for Memphis magazine (the first to hold that title, as well, way back in the ’80s, before I went off to Washington for a spell), I write features, profiles and the occasional “Last Word” piece.
2. How did you get into this industry and what insight can you give someone interested in this industry? People generally become English majors because they have some facility — or are believed by themselves or others — to have some facility with words. And once they graduate from college as an English major — as I did from what was called, back in the day, Memphis State University — they discover that some form of journalism is one of the few obvious fields to go looking for a job. There's more to it than that, of course — including an interest in public affairs and a desire to plug into significant events in some useful way. That’s the internal stuff that makes for fire in the belly when you need it. In our time, print journalism has spread into cyberspace and developed other electronic tributaries, and that allows a practicing journalist to be something of a social pioneer as well. Nothing new under the sun? Maybe not, but the sun changes colors, and journalism allows you to look in those changes without blinking.
3. On an off day from work, you will find me ... catching up on my reading (having spent a fortune over the years accumulating a library, risking bankruptcy in the process, I should at least make an effort to get those books read, right?); playing ping pong on my home table whenever I can find a regular partner; working out whenever I’m in one of those cycles; an yes, doing home chores ...
4. What is number one on your bucket list? Aside form the aforesaid duty of catching up with Mr. Tolstoy et al., I need to write a book or two. And I need at long last to get over to the mother continent, Europe.
5. How long have you worked here? I touched on this in number one, but I would add that for years I fluctuated between three vocations — journalism (for the old Arkansas Gazette, among other venues), academics (I was an assistant professor of English at Memphis State, my alma mater), and politics (I was several times a campaign hand, mainly in Arkansas, and worked in Washington for Congressman Bill Alexander of that state). A little bell went off in my head when I heard, back in 1989, that my friend Kenneth Neill, already publisher of Memphis magazine, for which I had done some work, was beginning a weekly newspaper, too. Riiiiinngg! I realized that I could put a lot of the eggs incubating in one basket.
6. What do you think makes the Flyer different from other publications? It fairly perfectly hits the middle between traditional hard news and the kind of advocacy journalism which becomes a cutting edge in the evolution of one’s times.
7. What sets Memphis magazine apart from other publications in the Mid-South of its kind? Like all glossy, ready-worthy magazines on which a great deal of editorial and aesthetic care have been lavished, it's as comfortable to curl up with as a good book, and its content being locally focused is a bonus.
8. When did you know that you loved words and wanted to use them to tell people a story? I realized that I had a thing going with words when my grade school teachers pointed the fact out to me, and I guess I felt obliged to prove them right.
9. Tell me anything else interesting about yourself! As members of my family know well, I enjoy devising nonsense words and store them up, so that, in those embarrassing moments when I might be inclined to blurt out something indecorously profane, I’ve got some sounds to fall back on that will sound goofy rather than offensive.