James Dickson cares about finding unfair advantages in life.
“An unfair advantage is taking what looks like a detriment and finding the part of it that gives you an edge,” Dickson said.
It’s a key insight for the managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s news website.
“CapCon seems small compared to our competitors in the traditional media,” Dickson said. “But our unfair advantage is our flexibility and our ability to focus on truly holding government accountable.”
When he was a teen, Dickson’s parents moved the family from Inkster to Detroit so he and his sister could take the placement exam to get into Detroit Renaissance High School, a public magnet school. Unfortunately, they didn’t move in time for him to take the exam.
“We were kind of stuck. We had just moved into the city, but couldn’t get into a good high school. But my dad saw a news report that West Bloomfield Schools was accepting students from other districts,” he said. “And that changed our life.”
In high school, Dickson began reading columns in the Sunday Detroit News and Detroit Free Press from the economist Thomas Sowell.
“I was amazed that there was this academic economist who could write articles that a teenager could be interested in,” Dickson said. “Reading him gave me an edge and furnished me with ideas and arguments others just didn’t know.”
In college, he tried to get a job at the Michigan Daily, the main student newspaper at the University of Michigan. But an email from the Michigan Review, a conservative/libertarian newspaper, caught his eye. By the end of his freshman year, he was an associate editor.
“I came into college as a conservative,” Dickson said. “But that group helped me develop an actual philosophy.”
From there, Dickson met John J. Miller, now the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College.
Miller helped him get his first journalism job, at The American Spectator in Washington, D.C. After the year-long fellowship, he came back to Michigan to work for The Detroit News.
After a decade with that publication, Dickson came on to lead Michigan Capitol Confidential.
“I was intrigued by the concept of what we call Impact Journalism,” he said. “We don’t hide that we are a free-market organization and that we do stories from that perspective. CapCon doesn’t get pulled into lots of different directions. This focus is our unfair advantage.”