Anchor Away

She made her name in the news business, but Jamie Jacks’ lead story is the law

Published in 2017 Mid-South Super Lawyers — December 2017

On the first live shot of Jamie Jacks’ professional broadcast news career, just as she was getting ready for her close-up, all hell broke loose.

“I was covering a city council meeting in Columbus, a run-of-the-mill piece on the new board members being sworn in,” she says. “All of a sudden, there was a verbal altercation. Then one council member shoved another. So I call the news department as I’m about to go live, and my producer says, ‘Get ready—you’re top of the news now, girl.’” Jacks laughs. “I heard in my ear, ‘Your video is up. Your video is up.’ But all I could manage to get out was ‘the nomination.’ I felt like it’s all I said, over and over, like 15 times. But it ended up being OK.”

Ironically, Jacks, now a lawyer at Jacks Griffith Luciano in Cleveland, Mississippi, is serving as city attorney to her hometown city council. 

Jacks’ dual interest in law and journalism began early. Thanks to a progressive high school in Louisiana, she reported from the desk of the on-campus studio and took pre-law classes. Jacks went to college on a theater scholarship but couldn’t resist the campus broadcast booth. “I love theater—and, in fact, still do community theater—but I didn’t know if I had the wherewithal to go to New York or LA and make it my full-time career. So I marched on over to the journalism department.” She graduated with a dual degree and marketable skills: “I could go out and shoot and edit,” she says. “I felt so ready to be a cub reporter.” 

After just seven months in the field at her first gig, at WCBI in Columbus, Jacks slipped into the 5 p.m. anchor chair. Then she did something unheard of for an up-and-comer within the industry: She went to a smaller market. 

“A normal trajectory from Columbus might be Oklahoma City, Jackson, Savannah, New Orleans,” she says. “If you’re really lucky, you go to the network. Some people love that life. But my husband and I were very close to our families here.” 

So when her husband wanted to move to Cleveland, she got her next anchoring job at WABG-TV. “It was not as challenging as reporting,” she says of the desk work. “I did enjoy the producer element, trying to time out the show. There was a challenge in the production: You’re putting a 30-minute TV show together every night, and there are a million things that could go wrong—the video doesn’t roll, the screen goes blank, the microphone or teleprompter fails. But I was trained to go out, find a story, whittle it down, get people thinking and stay unbiased.”

The story that meant the most to her was a six-month series she did on Columbus’ decision to close a school for children with disabilities and send those children to public schools. “Parents were so afraid of what might happen to their children in the school system,” she says. “It was difficult at times to cover—as I have a brother who has special needs—but I learned a lot about myself and being a journalist: namely, to be fair and balanced.”

In law school, she took a course in disability law, where the professor assigned an open-choice research project. “I thought, ‘I’m going to go back and find all of those children and see if the system worked,’” she says. “I found them all. Everyone transitioned well. Teachers told me that what was most shocking to them was how much the ‘regular’ education students got out of being with them. We didn’t anticipate that.”

After four years at WABG, she did her last broadcast on a Friday night in 2002. The following Monday was law school orientation.

“As a journalist, taking a lot of info, trying to distill it down to what’s important—that’s precisely what you do as a lawyer the minute you’re handed a case file. I also learned to ask pretty good questions. ... Getting people to be honest is critical.”

She calls it a “happy accident” that a portion of her clients—municipalities and school districts and city councils—were on her former beat. “It’s been neat to be on this side,” she says. “Certainly, in dealing with the media on cases, I understand where they’re coming from. It’s been a full-circle thing.”

 


 

3 Thoughts on Dealing with the Media from Jamie Jacks

> Be proactive. “Sometimes it may not be appropriate to give a quote in an ongoing matter. But if it is an issue of public concern, crafting a well-thought-out press release will normally be better than simply a ‘no comment.’”

> Go old-school. “Ask for [questions] in writing and respond in writing—you’ll have ample time to think about your answers and will not be misquoted.” 

> Correct the record. “If the media gets something wrong, contact them immediately.”

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