In “A Room of One’s Own,” Virginia Woolf writes:
Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size.
The Washington Post announced Monday they are launching a new “for women by women” website called The Lily, named for the first newspaper “devoted to the interests of women.”
It’s no secret that journalism has long been, and continues to be, far more closed off to women than to men. A now-retired female investigative journalist once told me that when she was working at the New York Times in the 1970s and 80s, if she collaborated with a man on a story, the story could only be double-bylined if it ran on the front page. Otherwise, her name would be dropped, as editors felt a man needed the byline more than she did.
In her post introducing The Lily, editor-in-chief Amy King acknowledged that “these days, publications for women are not so novel.” She’s right: See Jezebel, New York Magazine‘s The Cut, Racked, Bustle, Broadly, The Establishment, as well as the the newsstand stalwarts Vogue, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, and Glamour — many of which now go beyond the realm of beauty and fashion. The history of specific sections for “women’s interest” is grounded in revenue-grabbing, as Jacqui Shine noted for the Awl in 2014 in her epic history of newspapers’ style sections.
Joseph Pulitzer is credited with developing women’s news largely as a means of attracting new readers and, in turn, new advertisers…
Ishbel Ross, a reporter who also wrote the first history of women in journalism, said that Pulitzer’s women, like everyone in his newsroom, were expected to ‘get a good story or die.’ What’s more, they also ‘had to show their feelings in their reporting.’
Even the most successful women working in journalism had to write to these conventions, fashioning themselves as stunt girls or sob sisters.
As Shine notes, female journalists are expected to not only get a good story, but bare their own inner emotional workings to, in Woolf’s words, reflect “the figure of man at twice its natural size.”
On Twitter, the economics reporter for the Houston Chronicle published a thread questioning the Washington Post‘s decision to compartmentalize reporting on women’s issues, as well as its sponsor, JP Morgan Chase.
She was not alone.
Still, others argued that as women in journalism remain sidelined, specific outlets for and by them are helpful. Particularly at a time when even our lawmakers are inclined toward misogynist internet usage, amplifying women’s voices and journalism in the interest of women can only be positive.
In a Poynter profile, Lily editor-in-chief King argued that her critics are mistaken. The Lily, she says, is “not a women’s page or section or vertical in the traditional sense. Instead, it’s an attempt to take the news the Post produces and repackage it for a different audience on distributed platforms.” King’s explanation seems to frame The Lily more as an exercise in finding sustainable business models for journalism, similarly to how Joseph Pulitzer saw journalism by and for women as an economic opportunity. Poynter writes that King hopes The Lily “will offer lessons for how the Post can reach other demographics that it’s not currently reaching.”