Jessica Bennett | The Revolution Will Be Feminized

The Revolution Will Be Feminized

Gender & the New York Times: A Roadmap

Video courtesy of the NYTimes

In 1970, writing for the “women’s pages,” as they were known, a young New York Times reporter by the name of Marylin Bender embedded in the women’s movement. She reported from inside the headquarters of “Women’s Lib” – the second floor of a Chelsea loft, described as a mixture of “sorority house and campaign headquarters,” where young women with “shiny hair and faces devoid of makeup” were filing, writing, and planning. Unknown to the readers of that story, the women inside the Times were filing and planning as well – plotting to sue the newspaper for gender discrimination on behalf of 550 female employees, in a case later documented by the Pulitzer-winning writer Nan Robertson.

Fifty years later, much has changed for women, as well as the media that documents them. In America today, it is now women who earn more college and advanced degrees, make up the majority of the workforce, and wait longer to get married. They’ve had the way they work, live and communicate fundamentally changed by technology. In the wake of the presidential election, there is a movement afoot – and it is women, and young women, who are at its fore.

Three years ago, I sat in Dean Baquet’s office to make a case for why I thought the Times should devote a full-time staffer to covering gender. Since then, that need has gone from pressing to urgent. Engaging women – and millennial women – is crucial not only journalistically but to the economic future of any organization that strives to remain relevant. The Times’ journalism is perhaps more important at this moment than ever before. Yet there remains a gap: between the way stories are covered and the way young women are living them; between those who are speaking as experts and the audience they’re talking to; between the formats in which these stories are delivered and the way young women consume. With that gap comes opportunity. As seemingly every outlet clamors to cover the ever-evolving role of gender in our world, the Times should set the standard.

Where to Begin

Identify the Blind Spots

  • Speaking the language of young readers both in platform and voice. This is a generation that craves authenticity; I think they value stories that show some vulnerability as well as expertise. We must blend what the Times’ is known for – authority, rigorous reporting, objectivity – with a voice that feels accessible. We must delicately crack the wall between author and reader.

  • A wider range of voices, and female voices, to speak across age, race and class.

  • Put together an internal advisory board across desks and departments. This group’s job is to serve as sounding board on gender issues inside the company, from pointing out copy policies that may require updating (for example: gender pronouns), calling attention to editorial decisions about headlines, language selection and photography, to elevating research trends around women and mobile.

Define the Coverage

What does gender coverage mean?
  • Stories about gender
  • Stories through a gender lens
  • Stories that appeal to women (but aren’t necessarily about women)
  • Coverage of the current women's movement
  • Coverage across platforms

Don’t Segregate the Content

This demographic cares deeply about gender issues, yet they don’t see themselves as a special interest group. Gender is the prism through which we view culture as a whole. In my view it is crucial that this content exist across desks, sections and platforms, infused into the multifaceted topics women are already interested in.

Focus on Engagement

This means doing a better job of keeping online conversation within the Times rather than sending it elsewhere, and engaging with it when it does go off-site, even if it’s on somebody else’s platform. The end of the story doesn’t mean the end of the conversation; how can we keep readers on site to keep talking?

Think Multi-Platform

It used to be that great journalism was the final word, not simply the beginning of the conversation. The opposite is true today, where the success of a story hinges on how it spreads and morphs. We must ensure we keep conversations thriving in an active give and take; that we continue to be a part of the ongoing conversation rather than simply putting the story out and dusting off our hands. We must extend the shelf-life of stories through a combination of bite-sized content repackaged for different platforms, motion graphics, data visualization, video, social and mobile.

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How Millennial & Gen Z Women Consume

Voice

Voice

Speaking the language of young readers both in platform and voice. Millennial women crave authenticity; they appreciate stories that show a sense of vulnerability while at the same time appreciating expertise. How can we blend what the Times’ is known for – authority, rigorous reporting, objectivity – with voice? We must consider that there is room to delicately crack the wall between author and reader.

Intersectionality

Intersectionality

Gen Z is the most diverse generation to date and research has shown that multiracial children are the fastest growing youth group in the U.S. Must showcase diverse voices.

Visual

Visual

We know that our brains process visual imagery faster than text – 60,000 times faster, according to one study – and it is no surprise that it is women who rule visual platforms like Instagram and Pinterest, engaging more, experimenting with format, and storytelling through mediums like GIFs. Visual imagery IS language, and it is the language of choice to many young consumers. We must reengineer our thinking so that text is not the default.

Nasty

Mobile

Women spend more time on social media, as well as more time (and money) on mobile. They comment more; they engage more; they play with language and linguistics. (Source: Nielsen, 2016)

Images above courtesy of Jessica Walsh

What Subjects Do We Cover?

A continued focus on politics, national and international affairs and investigative, but with attention paid to gender angles within those areas. In addition, a more rigorous approach to:

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Men.

The changing role of men in the new world order, where, by 2018, wives will outearn their husbands in America.
Stories to assign today:

  • Who are the white men who, according to a recent PerryUndem poll, think it’s worse to be a man than a woman right now?
  • The rise of academic programs to study masculinity, and its role in everything from mass shootings to terrorism.
  • The return of “men’s camps” – 1970s-style sleepaway excursions for men who want to reclaim their masculinity.
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Race.

For the first time in modern history, the galvanized women's movement reflects an intersectional approach. But it's also caused all sorts of inertia internally. Stories to assign today:

  • What does it mean for a movement be intersectional? A historical look at the long, racist history of mainstream feminism, and its impact on the modern uprising.
  • Expanded profiles of young women of color, from Eileen Welteroth, the editor of Teen Vogue, to Yara Shahidi, the 17-year-old Blackish star; to the founders of the Women’s March.
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The Resistance.

Assign a designated reporter to cover the post-election resistance movement as a beat, from politicians to activists to lifestyle stories within it. Stories to assign today:

  • A dispatch from Women’s March HQ. What does it look like, feel like?
  • What would it take for the organizers of the Women’s March to create the equivalent of the Women’s Equality Party?
  • Get to know the anti-resistance movement. Who are the 53% of white women who supported Trump?
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Sexuality.

Millennials approach relationships and intimacy in a way that is starkly different from any generation before them. There are ways to report on this without sounding distant, patronizing or too academic. Stories to assign today:

  • Fifty percent of millennials believe gender exists on a spectrum. How should the rest of us enderstand gender fluidity?
  • A more serious look at trends like ghosting and breadcrumbing and gaslighting in modern dating for young women.
  • How will new policy affect efforts to curb campus assault?
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Opinion.

Sunday Review, gender edition. A rotating rolodex of voices weighing in on news and ideas of the moment. How can we make the Times the go-to place for women who have a story to tell? Stories to assign today:

  • What do all those pussycat hats really symbolize?
  • What is the role of men in the women’s movement?
  • Does representation really matter? A look at the data (pegged to Beyonce’s Grammy speech).
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New Features.

    Rolling out new columns and features that play off of existing Times staples, such as:
    • Feminist Table for Three. Interview series featuring unlikely pairings: Jennifer Lawrence and Lily Ledbetter on equal pay; Ruby Bridges and the founders of the Black Lives Matter, etc.
    • Ask a Feminist. Like the feminist ethicist – a humorous advice column on navigating the everyday in a changing world, from who should pay on a date to whether or not you've just mansplained.

New Products & Innovation

Podcasts

  • Race/Related for women’s issues – discussing the politics of the day.
  • Bad Feminist. A pop culture take on the feminist issues of the day.
  • Women @Work. Navigating gender in the modern workplace.

Newsletter

  • A simple newsletter rounding up the best of the Times’ gender coverage each week.

Mobile-Only Content

The New York Times' take on what the Washington Post just announced it plans to launch in “The Lilly,” a mobile-only app that will live on Instagram, Medium and Facebook targeted at millennial women.

Service Journalism

It doesn’t have to suck! It's useful and it's profitable. An easy place to start:

  • Motherload meets the Upshot meets New York Magazine's "Science of Us." This blog / column / mobile app would take what Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant did last year in their four-part Sunday Review series and make it bite-sized and visual, taking on the latest research, news, and cultural events and providing advice. The new academic research coming out in this realm is abundant, in part because corporations are desperate to fix their "diversity" problems. Stories off the top of my head:

    • How to Successfully Cry at Work (if You're a Woman): A Flowchart, based on new research out of Harvard.
    • A data map looking inside the 'diversity' cottage Industry, looking at the bevy of new programs that purport to help companies diversify their ranks, from implicit bias training tests to workshops.
    • How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome in 12 Steps, written by the psychologist who coined the term
    • Failure chronicles: Research shows that women fear failure more than men; they’re also less likely to give up when they do fail. Failure chronicles is a series of interviews with women in different fields telling the story of their worst failure.

Bringing Archives to Life

There is endless fodder in the Times archives for new and cutting edge content, gender and otherwise, beginning with a trip through the morgue (below). Among the specific ideas:

Video by Jessica Bennett for Tumblr

Reliving History

A weekly feature digging into the Times archives to see how times have changed – or in some cases, haven’t. In the article above, a 1915 headline in the Times declared, "At Manless Dinner, Women Speak of the Accomplishments of Their Sex." What's the modern-day equivilent?

TBTs

Weekly throwbacks on Instagram and Snapchat looking back at advertising and articles that ran in the Times, with context. In this 1970 ad, for example, the bra company Bali touted “How to wear a bra and look like you're not." Turns out this ad made waves at the time, with one bra executive called it the start of an era of “bosom consciousness.” Let's roll these features out in a coordinated effort.

Google Maps

The New York Public Library recently partnered with Google to create a walking map through Manhattan, complete with historical information and archival footage woven into the tour. Why not roll out a New York Times version of this, internationally, so that anywhere you travel you can find NYT-recommended destinations (the general idea) or be notified when you’re passing by important monuments of women’s history (the gender idea)?

Calendar Plug-in

The Skimm has a Google calendar plug-in, Skimm Ahead, that inserts daily reminders about television shows, album releases, and important political dates into a subscriber's calendar. I could easily see a Times version of this for history buffs, with alerts about important moments in history, and links to past coverage.

A Couple of Launch Projects


She Will Run

When women run for political office, they are just as likely to be elected. But one of the major reasons they remain unrepresented is that they don’t run in the first place. In the days and weeks after Trump’s election, more than 20,000 women signed up to run for office, many of them with the help of programs like She Should Run (a new incubator) and EMILY’s List, which offered free educational programs on how to get started, some of them even held during the Women's March on Washington. Let’s choose six women who plan to run for office, from each party, and follow them on their path.

Documenting the First Year

How will a post-Trump world really affect women? Ask six women in six locations (that's an arbitrary number) to document their next year. Partner with StoryCorps or RadioDiaries to bring a multimedia component.

Mapping the Wage Gap

The nonprofit Contently Foundation did an investigative dig into public sector wage gap data to showcase the dollar amount by industry. This information is sitting in a spreadsheet, unpublished. Partner with this group, or another, to create an interactive map showcasing the wage gap across industry and company. Layer that information with data about the things that have been shown to affect the wage gap, such as government parental leave policies or occupation.


A Visual History of the Resistance

Consider it an oral history project you’re already working on, we simply need to compile the images, and layer audio recording on top of it, to build something that will document this moment from both sides. Museums are already collecting protest signs; let’s create a scrollable map that captures both the imagery and stories from this moment in time.

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About Jessica Bennett

Jessica Bennett is a multimedia journalist and critic who writes on gender, sexuality and culture, primarily for the New York Times. She is the author of Feminist Fight Club: A Survival Manual for a Sexist Workplace (HarperCollins, 2016), which has become a newsletter, a podcast, and is being adapted for television. She was the first journalist to profile Monica Lewinsky in a decade; has covered sexual consent on college campuses; and writes a column on digital language for the Sunday Style section called Command Z.

Jessica began her career at Newsweek, where she was a staff writer and editor. She went on to found a multimedia initiative at Tumblr, and has consulted for a range of outlets, from Vocativ to Cosmopolitan to Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In foundation, where she worked with Getty Images to launch a photo collection and grant program focused on diversifying stock imagery. She is also a former columnist at Time.

Find her at jessicabennett.me and feministfightclub.com