Tuesday Talk*: Why The Woke Go Broke

Imagine if you were to start a blog, a media site, dedicated to a cause about which you were deeply passionate, that allowed you to write every day about such critical issues as menstruation without anyone pointing out you were suffering from delusions, wore out any possible interest in the subject or were boring? How cool would that be?

Soon after Anna Holmes took on the job of building the website Jezebel, in 2007, she set it apart from established publications like Vogue and Elle with a post offering $10,000 to anyone who would send in the best unretouched version of a women’s magazine cover photo. And with that, Jezebel had marked its territory: feminist cultural criticism, with an edge.

“It seems quaint now, because there are tons of media outlets influenced by Jezebel,” Ms. Holmes said. “But at the time, there was no proof that it was marketable.”

And for a while, there were tons of media outlets fighting for their little piece of that “edge.” Perhaps “edge” doesn’t quite capture what they were doing, and it would be better expressed as irrational narcissistic outrage, but there were women who wanted a place to vent, and other women who wanted to read their venting, no matter how goofy it was.

Now many of those sites are dead or dying, and Jezebel is under new management, part of a stable of publications run by the hedge fund-controlled ownership group, G/O Media, that recently set off a staff exodus at the sports site Deadspin. Feminist media has been especially hard hit by the financial turbulence in the news industry.

Whether or not it’s fair to call it feminist media, given that there’s little feminist about whining how strong, yet weak, you are, how powerful, yet oppressed, you are and how unfair it is that biology exists, there is a larger question looming: why can’t Feministing make enough money to survive?

Samhita Mukhopadhyay, a former executive editor of Feministing and now the executive editor of Teen Vogue, said she missed the years when those publications were connecting with readers, calling it “the heyday” of independent feminist media.

If you wondered why Teen Vogue now offers such critical information to your teenaged daughters about how to properly perform anal sex, now you know.

“It was this amazing moment where we were making careers out of blogging in our underwear. Now it’s not a good time for start-up media,” she said, adding, “I worry that people are afraid to align themselves with publications that are explicitly feminist.”

Is that the problem, that people fear the disapproval of the Patriarchy?

“As the media industry is grappling with different issues, it’s these feminist publications that are shuttered first,” Lindsay Schrupp, the former editor in chief of Broadly, said. “It contributes to the long history of erasing women’s work.”

Is “women’s work” being erased, or has it burned out on outrage? Like any media site that isn’t published out of love but for money, the problem is lack of money.** Much like ThinkProgress failed because, to everyone’s shock and dismay, socialists couldn’t support their own flavor of crazy, it seems that the former underwear bloggers (an image one could live without, I might add) aren’t good with economics.

“A lot of these closures were less about any sort of failure and actually about our success,” Ms. Schrupp, the former Broadly editor, said. “These places became so successful at showing women’s experiences as full, real experiences that other companies had to keep up. But it’s sad that they’re the ones who suffer for it.”

The rationalization is that as cutting-edge feminist writing became hugely popular, more mainstream media glommed its content and writers, leaving the edgy start-ups in their dust. Was that what happened, or has the fad burned out? Has the edge of feminism been blunted by the Patriarchy that runs mainstream media? Have they chose to shutter Feministing, et al., because they want to erase women, or are they closing because they lack the financial support necessary to keep them in business?

*Tuesday Talk rules apply.

**If I had to earn a living off SJ, I would be eating fishsticks. On the other hand, Elie Mystal gets paid a pretty sweet salary, so go figure.

15 thoughts on “Tuesday Talk*: Why The Woke Go Broke

      1. MIKE GUENTER

        You were living high on the hog then. For me back in the day, it was Kraft Mac ‘n cheese at .25 a box, 5 for a dollar.

        To this day, I can’t stand store bought Mac ‘n cheese.

  1. Turk

    The problem, such as it is, may have little to do with feminism and more to do with blogging in general getting whacked by Twitter and Facebook.

  2. CLS

    You can monetize outrage-fueled insipid drivel quite well.
    After all, the Times still has an Editorial board and Everyday Feminism’s still online.
    Guess these non-binary persons of undetermined genders didn’t follow the playbook.

    As an aside, after reading the linked Times article it’s rather misleading of the writer to lump Deadspin in with “feminist media.” It was a sports site that got overtly political. When G/O acquired it, they told Deadspin writers to stick to sports.

    Rather than collect a paycheck doing what they loved, Deadspin’s staff walked.

    1. SHG Post author

      The Deadspin saga is very different according to whether one believes that the folks who sign the paychecks get to call the tune.

  3. L. Phillips

    Let me see if I understand the complaint:

    We came up with a new and edgy way of expressing ourselves.
    Millions came to see what we were doing so we made good – then really good – money.
    We kept producing the same product.
    Everybody and their dog jumped into our pool with small variations of what we pioneered.
    We kept producing the same product.
    The money and accolades kept rolling in but new client growth started to flatten.
    We kept producing the same product.
    Large, well funded media operations either stood up new divisions or bought existing providers to meet the obvious demand.
    We kept producing the same product.
    The market saturated. The money started to dry up. So did the accolades.
    We kept producing the same product.
    Now we are not new or edgy. Our clients and advertisers are gone.
    AND IT IS NOT OUR FAULT!

        1. Matthew Scott Wideman

          If you want to make money in life you are going to be subject to market forces. It appears there is an ever shrinking pool of people who are willing to pay for random journalism and/or the opinions of another person. These people don’t seem to shake their fists at the market when NBC is giving them blank checks….. Or decry the lost voices of traditional main stream media.

          Everyone is an asshole for not realizing their true genius. It’s the same argument I make when I am successful at evicting a tenant for a client and I don’t get paid $2 million dollars.

  4. Anthony Kehoe

    This reminds me of the BBC back home. As a public service broadcaster, they have to deliver content that might not have an independent market due to marginality or just sincere lack of marketability. That is the solution here. We need some sort of entity, call it government, to forcibly extract funds from all the people, because it’s good for them to have this content, so that this vitally important and necessary media material can be produced and disseminated. Obviously (obviously!) this wouldn’t be necessary if the people knew what was good for them and did it independently but there are so many trolls and the patriarchy out there we just need to do this.

    In case it wasn’t obvious, that was sarcasm. Women make up over 50% of the population, they could easily support feminist media if they wanted to. What does it say when they don’t want to?

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