(BAMSouth.org Publisher Jack Criss was interviewed recently by Brandon, MS-based journalist and fellow South Jackson native, Chuck Bailey, to reminisce about his years in media—the good, the bad and the ugly!)
Bailey: So talk about your start in Jackson print media first since that’s where you’ve spent most of your career.
Criss: During my last few years as a talk show host at WJNT in Pearl, MS,
I contributed several op-eds and wrote a few business stories for Wyatt Emmerich and The Northside Sun and for Kevin Jones, who was the publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal back in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
There was a guy by the name of Scott Coopwood who listened to my show and he asked me to send in a column to his newspaper, Metro Jackson Business News. That was in the summer of 1990 and it proved to be a very fortuitous event. Scott gave me my start in professional, day-to-day publishing and I’ll always be grateful for that. The first time I ever owned a business was when I bought the Jackson Business Journal from him in August, 1996.
Bailey: You mentioned talk radio and I know you’ve done radio and some TV even after you left talk radio full time. What’s better for getting info to the public: print, broadcast or social media? Which of those do you like best now?
Criss: I love them all but I guess I’ll always appreciate the immediacy and uncensored, unedited candor of talk radio. That was great fun and the way we did it back at WJNT, very informative and entertaining. Most talk radio I hear now sounds like hell: a lot of blathering about nothing, signifying nothing and adding zero to public discourse. Still, though, there’s also just something about holding that book, paper or magazine in your hand. There’s a quality of permanence in it, you know?
Bailey: What was the Jackson economic climate like in the early 90’s when you left radio to go into print?
Criss: It was good, it was strong—better than it is now. I had come from more of a political commentator background, pro-business for sure, but never dealing with business people on a regular basis, so I had much to learn. I had never sold an ad in my life but caught on quickly.
And, as someone who loved to write and was pro-business, I instantly decided to promote and highlight local businesses and leaders and all the positive and creative things they were doing.
There were so many outstanding public companies headquartered in Jackson back in the 90’s. It saddens me now to see that they’re all gone. Jackson was well known as home to LDDS/Worldcom, Skytel and MTel, Deposit Guaranty, McCarty Holman, MISSCO, ChemFirst, Parkway Properties and Eastgroup—many, many outstanding locally-managed companies.
Bailey: How about some dirt: did you deal with any “infamous” business leaders? Or any who weren’t so pleasant to be around?
Criss: Well, I don’t know about his guilt in the much-documented scandal and downfall, but Bernie Ebbers was always extremely rude. Just about every time I was around him, or had to interview him, he was short, ill-tempered and gruff. He used to always sit at the bar at Tico’s in Ridgeland with a bunch of politicians and play “Jeopardy” along with the television.
Bud Robinson, who headed up Deposit Guaranty Bank, was, and is, a complete gentleman, but got upset with me when I published what I thought was a fairly innocuous Q&A with him after Deposit Guaranty was sold in early 1998. I emailed him a few times not long ago to ask if I could interview him about his life today but he refused—graciously but a little pointedly. I hope he’s not still mad.
Bailey: Best interviews? Nicest business leaders?
Criss: My favorite, and maybe the best interview, I ever conducted was over the radio with the conservative author Charles Murray back in late 1989 on WJNT. Fascinating guy and I could have kept talking to him for hours. Around the same time, I had the pleasure—and you have to remember I was in mid-20’s—to sit across from and interview people like Bill Buckley, Jr., Patrick Swayze, Jesse Jackson. It was an amazing and educational experience. I’ve lost all of the cassette tapes of those interviews in the intervening years and that bothers me greatly.
As far as nice local business leaders, there have been several. Earl Gaylor, who was owner of the old Edison Walthall Hotel in downtown Jackson, was like a second father to me. He was a real throwback businessman, a gentleman, always in a suit and tie. He used to give me hell if he ever saw me out in jeans or needing a haircut. After Katrina hit, Earl—and the hotel—was never the same. It was also a tragedy that the city leaders of Jackson never gave Earl the recognition he deserved for his commitment to downtown.
Bailey: There are free magazines and papers everywhere now in the Metro. What’s this talk about print’s demise? Do you buy it?
Criss: Good question. I think local, niche publications will always have a place, especially in the Metro market. Evidently people love these picture books that show the same faces at the same parties in town. That’s not the trend nationally, of course, but it is here—at least for now. I don’t see all of these publications staying around for a whole lot longer, though. It can’t possibly be economically feasible.
Bailey: Will you ever put out a print publication again?
Criss: Never say never. In a limited capacity, I’d like to do so, yes. Stay tuned.
Bailey: Favorite interview you’ve ever conducted for print?
Criss: (Pauses) That’s very hard to say. I can tell you that I had to edit a number of comments from some prominent Metro leaders that could have proven inflammatory had I chosen to publish them.
I had a very prominent and well known Jackson and Mississippi businessman say some fairly crude and condescending things to me once in an interview back in 1994. I’ll never forget that. You’re a writer so you’ll understand when I say that I had to, ah, “clean up” his interview a little bit!
Bailey: Don’t leave that hanging—who was it?
Criss: He was in the grocery business—that’s all I’ll say.
In one sense, I’m glad that I worked and wrote in the glory days. Print was IT in the pre-internet times, money flowed pretty well and everybody was fat and happy. The work was good and of a better quality then, too, I think—in an overall sense. Everything is so immediate now with social media that there’s little time for reflection. As a result, we see cruder, more poorly-written and less thought out material these days.
Ironically, though, I think I’m MORE reflective now than I was—and a better writer, too. Of course, a lot of that is simple maturity and surviving what we all have since September, 2001, you know?
On the positive side for publishing, at least 3M spray mount is obsolete as is cutting and pasting. I used to have to drive the actual newspaper, the old Greater Jackson Business—laid out in a beat up, old yellow box—to the Greyhound bus station to ship to the printers. Now you simply push a few buttons