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Women in New Media: At the Top or in the Trenches?

4 years ago
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Here's good news! A quick tour of new and improved news-and-infotainment websites -- dozens of them -- reveals that women by the droves are successfully making the leap from old journalism to new media.

Just the other day, as if to underscore this trend, a Business Insider article featured 25 media stars that have made that leap, and 13 of them -- 52 percent -- are women. Maybe that's not such a big number, but it looms large next to the pitiful number of women (six) named by the National Law Journal among the 40 most influential lawyers of the decade. Worse, the investor George Soros, the world's 35th richest person (net worth: $14 billion) and a benefactor of liberal politicians and causes, put together an elite group of international economists to reshape the world in his image and forgot one thing: women.

No wonder, then, that the story on women in the new media stirred up all sorts of thoughts around here: Could it be that women out-perform men in the new media?

Let's see. Aside from multimedia giants like Tina Brown (Daily Beast) and Arianna Huffington (Huffington Post), both of whom were famous in print media, there are plenty of other prominent women who made their names in print and are now extending that success to women-and-infotainment websites. Many are the beneficiaries of vast business networks built over long careers in print, like 56-year-old Tina Brown; others are entrepreneurial, like the 59-year-old Huffington; but most of them do not arrive at new media by choice, but by necessity.

New media is the only game in town.

Business Insider's media star list includes Pilar Guzman, former editor of the defunct Cookie magazine, at MomFilter.com, and Deborah Needleman, editor of the late Domino magazine, who is creating her own site. Janice Min, the former seven-figure-salary editor of Us Weekly who reigned over the world of entertainment magazines until recently, when her deal fell apart, is moving to Los Angeles and shopping a celebrity website. There are, too, thriving news-driven and women-friendly sites like Salon's Broadsheet and Politics Daily's WomanUp. (Melinda Henneberger, editor-in-chief of Politics Daily, and PD columnist Jill Lawrence, are included on Business Insider's roster of new media stars.)

For young, ambitious digital-savvy types, the new media is the Holy Grail.

Jessica Grose is pretty much a billboard for the life online. At 28, a Brown University graduate, she has been in old and new journalism for six years, writing for The Times, the Village Voice, Salon, Slate, and Spin.com. Today she's the managing editor of Double X, Slate's feminist site, working with its co-founders Emily Bazelon and Hanna Rosin.

"Working online makes everything easier,'' Grose told me. "The style is less old-fashioned, and you get to write and edit.'' There's no division between the two jobs, as there is at most newspapers and magazines. She sees more opportunities for women online -- to move up, to start your own blog, to write whatever you want and make good money. Referring to the widely known fact that most bloggers make little money, she said, however, that staff positions like hers pay as much money in new media as in the old.

That's the good news.

"The first thought that comes to my mind for me is that yes, online journalism works for women because we tend to like to martyr ourselves by working miserably hard," said Jessica Pressler, a writer-editor at the New York magazine blog Daily Intel. Pressler is 32 and has been a journalist for 11 years, published in newspapers and magazines. But two years ago, when the freelance market dried up, she was grateful and lucky to find Daily Intel. She's now a senior editor and blogs 10 hours days five days a week. "It's nuts!"

She likes it -- sometimes.

"Sure, more women become bloggers," she said. "Women are good at multitasking, they can move copy quickly. Male writers are more egotistical about their prose and won't stand for the demands of these jobs. They think they are too good for this. They are used to magazine writing and they want to spend more time crafting the story.''

But there's something else as well, she told me: money. "Women are used to being paid less, doing more for less." Men want more. And unless you're on staff, the pay is miserable.

Most start-ups don't enjoy the advertising revenues that sustain big salaries. They can't match the pay scales of the traditional print world. The Huffington Post is notorious for not paying freelancers, yet Arianna Huffington hardly lacks for volunteers. Over at the Daily Beast, pay is reportedly a bit better. A longtime fashion freelance writer in Los Angeles, a friend of mine, was offered a job by the Daily Beast. She was expected to turn out heavily reported stories at a fast clip. The pay, $300 per piece, give or take. She turned down the offer.

This state of play came about with the massive layoffs and buyouts in the newspaper and magazine business. Thousands of experienced journalists suddenly flooded the market, willing to work online for far less money than they had made in their old jobs. On top of that, the market for freelancers in print dried up as well. So in the past five years or so, news-driven and infotainment websites have had the pick of the litter.

The gap in pay between traditional and new media is not small. For instance, a freelance writer making a dollar a word 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago, writing for the glossies and luxe magazines and big-city papers, might make 50 cents a word, or a quarter or even less a word, in new media. But that's a whole lot better than nothing.

The choice is this: Join the new media revolution and change a whole way of doing things, or stay out in the cold.

It seems many women have opted to join. Sometimes, in fact, the blogosphere seems like a cacophony of female voices, an endless daytime talk show. "The View" meets "Oprah" meets "Dr. Oz."

But it's not all a femme fest. Women are lagging far behind in the world of high tech, according to an article in The New York Times on Sunday. And remember the story about a male blogger known as "Men With Pens" who confessed that he was really a woman. That happened not 10 years ago, in the Neanderthal age of new media, but just last fall. She revealed she had adopted a man's name to get work and better pay. It worked.

The other day a former colleague of mine and I talked about women in new media and the idea that this time it seemed that women were sitting on top of the heap. She works for a newspaper website, transferred there almost a decade ago from a mid-management newsroom position. Going digital was not her choice, but eight years later she calls herself a convert.

She reads the paper online, has mastered multiplatform journalism, directs and produces and appears in videos promoting the paper and its website. In middle age, after a distinguished career in newspapers, she's a new-media queen. She's made the leap.

But when she looks around her web newsroom, she notices that the highly prized jobs of web developers -- the thinkers, the innovators, the ground breakers -- are all held by men. She asks me if I remember a New York magazine article on the future of The New York Times that appeared several years ago. The magazine ran several pictures of the people it chose as the 21st century leaders at The Times: They were all young, all of them new-media whizzes, and all were men.
Filed Under: Media, Woman Up

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