Last week, I was thrilled to be honored by EWIP (Exceptional Women in Publishing). Each year, EWIP gives its award to a woman the group feels embodies its mission to educate and empower females in publishing. I was particularly moved to join a group of legendary past honorees, including Ms. Magazine‘s Gloria Steinem, Newsweek‘s Eleanor Clift, Essence‘s founding editor Susan Taylor and Marie Rodale of Rodale Press. Last year’s recipient, Dorothy Kalins, former Newsweek executive editor and founding editor of Saveur, gave me a spirited introduction.
At the awards presentation at the 2010 Folio Show, I spoke of the challenges and triumphs of running The Nation at a time of radical media transformation. My remarks are below. I am grateful to EWIP for the honor and, even more, for its tireless work in nurturing and promoting the voices of women in publishing.
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Good afternoon and thank you so much!
First, I want to say how deeply honored I am to be recognized by exceptional women in publishing.
I want to thank Dorothy Kalins for that far too generous introduction—and past presidents Linda Ruth and Thea Selby for their organization’s invaluable work. And former Mother Jones editor Deirdre English for her trailblazing path.
When I think about exceptional women in publishing, I think about my years reporting in Russia. I worked for The Nation and also at a Russian newspaper. I saw firsthand the tremendous risks involved for my Russian women colleagues to report, to publish and speak out. Anna Politkovskaya risked her life to report the truth from the war zone of Chechnya. For her fearless reporting she was gunned down in her apartment lobby in October 2006. Another young journalist, Anastasia Baburova, was shot in daylight on a Moscow street last year for her reporting on human rights abuses. With unparalleled courage, these women journalists never flinched in the face of risk. Witnessing their courage inspired me as an editor, journalist and publisher.
I learned that exceptional women take risks. Of course, one hopes the risks are never deadly. But in taking risks, my Russian colleagues, and ones I am privileged to work with and count as sisters in this country, stay true to themselves and to their principles. And that is what moves me.
We gather at a difficult moment in publishing—but one that I believe is also a moment of promise. For all of us exceptional women in publishing—and all of you should call yourselves that, not just me as your award winner—it’s a hard time to do what we love. The crisis for magazines, newspapers and periodicals of all kinds is real, and as we leave from this gathering, many of us face defining moments in the lives of our own publications. The risks we have to take are much different than those faced by the women I knew in Moscow, but exceptional women take all kinds of risks—and I believe that one measure of risk today is defined by thinking big and going for it. Staying true to the heart and history of the publications we run. Embracing the complexity and challenge of new platforms and technologies.
It is about what Dorothy spoke of at last year’s EWIP gathering: the importance of bravado! So let me tell you just a little bit about how we’re staying true to our heart and principles while taking risks at The Nation.
We may be feisty, radical, liberal in our politics, but for a magazine like The Nation, change doesn’t always come easy. If you don’t know us well—or at all!—The Nation is the oldest continuously published weekly in the country, in print every week since 1865. Next month will mark our 145th anniversary! (Some days i feel that old!) But if survival is the ultimate sign of success, we are proud of our age. There are several reasons for our success: for one, we consider the enterprise a cause as much as a business—and we prize our history and tradition; another is a crackerjack biz staff; and yet another, our subscribers are opinionated and very, very loyal—in fact we have some sixty community-based discussion groups nationwide.
So we’ve spent a lot of time thinking in this last couple years about how The Nation can embrace the changes roiling our industry—and still stay true to the values which have kept us strong for 145 years. We’ve been thinking about how we use the new platforms—and still do the work that has real impact?
As The Nation‘s second woman editor and publisher, I’ve decided to go for it! Embrace change. Revel in all its complexity—even while, like some of you, I may wake up every morning with more questions than answers. Anyone who tells you they have all the answers, tell ’em to go take a hike–on the Appalachian Trail.
After a hardnosed, rigorous planning process about our digital future, The Nation has jumped headlong into building a first-class digital profile. If you’re reading The Nation today, it’s likely you’re reading it on your smartphone or on your Kindle, where we were an "early adopter," and remain a dramatically higher-ranked magazine there than on newsstands. It’s far more likely that new readers find us on Twitter than in a bookstore, and I’m getting blog comments (some nasty, some nice…) from all over the country and all over the world.
What we’re trying to do on those platforms is something a little different—and something i hope can chart a course forward for independent journalism in the digital age. We’re adapting these new media tools to amplify our unique form of journalism: investigative reporting that speaks truth to power; informed opinion journalism; critical analysis of politics and news; and lively, intelligent coverage of books, culture and the arts. In short: whether its a 140-character tweet, a blog post on your iphone or the cover story in the latest print edition, we’re committed to first-class, fact-checked, well-edited independent journalism.
We’re also committed to community building—and The Nation‘s new website has a robust community section. In fact, this fall we’re launching a feature where Nation readers—who are deeply engaged in politics and activism—can host and launch their own online activism campaigns through our website. And underlying this digital democracy is our website built on the open-source platform "Drupal."
I love that name–Drupal! It sounds like The Hobbit meets Avatar. Talking names of gadgets: you knew there were way too few women in the high command over at Apple when they come out with the iPad! But we women at the Nation took it in stride and just last month we took the bull by the horns and launched a new ipad/iphone friendly app last month, the first of several from The Nation. We’re told that its already in the top 300 best-selling paid apps internationally, sold in over twenty-five countries—in its first few weeks alone!
While we still covet the occasional National Magazine Award, The Nation won something i’d never heard of until march, but that i’m extremely proud to have earned: we won the "shorty award" for best political tweeting. Our Twitter feed (@thenation) has over 50,000 followers, we launched a new blog on Twitter, and our new website incorporates Twitter feeds in a dynamic way. We’re proud that our feed is a place where you can follow the broader progressive community and our independent media allies.
I’m also tweeting—it’s something I didn’t know how to do a year ago, but now I confess I can’t stop. If you know me, you know that I tend to keep my personal life to myself. That’s part of the challenge of being a woman in a field like political media, which is dominated largely by men—there is a tendency sometimes to try to be more serious and more businesslike. But Twitter has proved a place where i can talk about my love of reality TV, my passion for basketball and my family, as well as the BP disaster, how to fix our financial system and healthcare—while still drawing traffic and interest back to my publication.
Like other similar magazines, some of our premium content is behind a paywall, but at this point we are not increasing the volume of paid content. This may have been the biggest risk we’ve taken—resisting the urge to try and monetize all of our content, and instead trusting that our community of donors and supporters would continue to support us, and that expanded web traffic would lead to a bigger community of donors and subscribers. So far its paid off—in spite of the recession, 2009 was the single biggest year ever for our donation program.
The Nation has always risked it with a unique biz model featuring a diversified revenue stream—and it is one that has served us well in this fast-changing media landscape. We’ve always been circulation driven—currently about 60 percent of our revenue comes from subs (advertising is the third-largest sorce of revenue—so we haven’t been as hard hit during this recession as some other titles…). And because we have a unique relationship with our readers–"Nation Associates"—30,000 of them—donate small sums annually (about $2 million total and our second-biggest source of revenue). These donations are above and beyond the cost of their subs and in return they get special benefits, like invitations to Nation events and access to community features on our web site. And, of course there’s a truly diverse part of our revenue stream: the annual Nation cruise— -or as the New York Times dubbed it, "the love boat for policy wonks." I confess I never thought part of my job would involve being a part-time cruise director.
In all we do the bottom line remains: how to keep the print magazine as the anchor while moving online in an intelligent way that stays true to the 145-year old spirit of our magazine and mission.
One of the most exciting and perhaps exceptional parts of our digital buildout for me is that it’s been led by a team of women. Our extraordinary president, Teresa Stack, has managed each and every step of this process–a model of velvet steel. Our web editor, Emily Douglas, and technical director Kellye Rogers worked with our tireless consultant from the Osder Group—Elizabeth Osder—to plan a digital overhaul of the magazine that was in line with our brand and our form of journalism. Two fields where you don’t often see women making decisions are technology and politics—the opportunity to build out these new features with a team of women has been exciting, and I believe has resulted in a range of features that are thoughtful, intuitive and smart.
And editorially, I am very proud of the women columnists who write for the magazine—Katha Pollitt, Particia J. Williams, Melissa Harris-Lacewell and Naomi Klein. Their voices are some of the strongest, most powerful, risk-taking voices of our time—engaging, debating the great issues of our time.
I am also working through our thirty-year-old intern program (which I graduated from!) To nurture and mentor a new generation of women journalists, editors and publishers.
What’s also heartening to me as I look around the field of publishing and online media is to see how many other women are taking risks and making bold choices for their publications—and making them in ways that feel right.
At Mother Jones, three women—the editors, Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffrey, and the CEO, Madeline Buckingham—are at the helm.
At Salon, Joan Walsh is leading the site while writing some of the sharpest political commentary out there.
At the Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington is leading an increasingly highly-trafficked venture, vying with the daily papers.
At the Daily Beast, Tina Brown has found a home for her smart and buzzy brand of journalism
Online we’re seeing newer ventures where young women are taking risks and doing good journalism on their own terms. Sites like Jessica Valenti‘s Feministing, Jane Hamsher‘s Firedoglake and RH Reality Check are embracing the latest in community and social networking, but in the service of good reporting and intelligent analysis of news and politics from a woman’s perspective.
Years ago, these platforms and technologies felt like a burden—like gimmicks that could alienate our readers, corrupt the veracity of our journalism and imperil our future. The beginning of the tech boom felt like a man’s world, and every day I am conscious of the fact that my decisions will impact the history and legacy of one of the country’s oldest and most established names in news. It would have been easy to look the other way, to advocate for transitioning the nation into a quaint journal with little online presence. There are enough questions still about e-readers and digital editions and apps that all of them felt like a tremendous risk—and some of them still do.
But as Dorothy reminded us last year, everyone in publishing—and I think, especially women in publishing—have to show some bravado and some grit, and be open to the changes roiling our industry as opportunities, not as threats. When I look around this room I see a lot of courage, a lot of bravado and a lot of grit. And while these are tough times, always that other risk of slipping back on advances made, I believe that it is the women in this room who will lead publishing into this new era—and will see, as I have, the thrill and the necessity in embracing change in the years to come.
Thank you again to exceptional women in publishing, and to all of you.