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mediabistro.com's THINK{drinks}:
The Pink Ghetto? Why women's magazines get no respect

The Discussion
Question & Answer
Photos

-- (more images below)

On October 3, a hundred editors and staffers from women's magazines gathered at Tribeca's Obeca Li to sip cocktails and discuss the state of women's magazine journalism in the wake of the closures of Mode and Mademoiselle. Our panel, which included two magazine editors-in-chief, covered topics including the disparities between publications aimed at women and men, the pressures of advertising on editorial content, and the role of expansive narrative journalism in the traditional women's books. It was a lively and far-ranging discussion that provoked as many questions as it resolved.

Panelists
Laurie Abraham, Executive Editor, Elle magazine
Kathy Bishop, Editor-in-Chief, Mode magazine
Chandra Czape, former Deputy Articles Editor, Cosmopolitan
John Godfrey, Senior Editor, Glamour
Debbie Stoller, Editor-in-Chief, Bust magazine

Moderator:
Rachel Lehmann-Haupt, THINK{drinks} Curator
_________________________________________________

The Discussion:
Rachel:
In addition to being the moderator of this series, I'm also a freelance writer and I've written for many women's magazines, including magazines that are from people who are on our panel. So I have a very vested interest in what we're going to talk about. It's not a good time in this country -- it's not a very good time for the media either. Mademoiselle, a venerable women's magazine, and Mode have just closed down.

This is a room that's filled with some of the best minds in the magazine business, and we're here to discuss what we call the Pink Ghetto. Despite the fact that there are so many smart women who create and work on these magazines, many of these women are dissatisfied with the product and the focus of the writing. Many of these women's magazine contributors feel that they don't get respect from male editors, and also find it difficult to cross over into marketing venues or literary venues. Still, women's magazines, on the whole, win fewer National Magazine Awards. There's less room in these books for the lengthy narrative journalism that usually wins these awards. And usually, when a smart women's magazines such as Mirabella or Lear's enters the market, it doesn't survive for very long. So I hope that with some of the issues that we've raised will come a prescription for change. And I don't think that women that work for a lot of different magazines get together in this summit style very often.

Here are our panelists: John Godfrey is a Senior Editor at Glamour; he's won a National Magazine award for Public Service. Laurie Abraham is the Executive Editor of Elle, and herself an award-winning journalist. Chandra Czape is the former Features Articles Editor of Cosmo. And Debbie Stoller is the Editor-In-Chief and founder of Bust magazine, a magazine that has been noted as part of the new wave of post-feminist magazines that are challenging traditional women's magazine stereotypes. And Kathy Bishop is the Editor-in-Chief of Mode magazine --

Kathy: Was.

Rachel: Was the Editor-In-Chief of Mode magazine -- sorry. She obviously has a lot to say about the topics we'll talk about tonight! Okay, I'm going to throw out one question, and we'll have everybody go down the line and answer it -- starting with Laurie -- in the context of the publication that you work for. At a time when the majority of women are concerned with same issues as their male counterparts, how has the role of women's magazines changed today? A long time ago, the women's magazine existed because women really lived in a different world than men-obviously that's not the case anymore. So, the big question is: Is there still a role for women's magazines and what is it? Should they be eye candy about that ever-popular girly stuff?

Laurie Abraham: You know, I think that women read all kinds of magazines. I know I do -- and I think that women's magazines are all different. And Elle has a role, to me, as being the kind of magazine that you can go to if you like an eclectic mix of pieces. If you like a little bit of fashion, with your more serious pieces and hopefully some well-reported features. That certainly was where Mirabella was, where I worked before. And Elle always had some of that, with better arts coverage all along than Mirabella was ever able to pull off. I read general interest magazines and love those for what they bring. And I also like ours because of its eclecticism. So, I think there's a place for them.

Chandra Czape: I think there's obviously a place for them or we all wouldn't be here. We also wouldn't be reading them. Cosmo wouldn't be the largest-selling women's magazine, and Glamour would not be as popular as it is. And these are not quite as serious as Elle is. I mean, I think that Elle has much higher-caliber writing, I would say, than Cosmo or Glamour or even Self. But there is something interesting about those magazines that draw people in. And that's very serious because if you read Esquire and GQ, the men's magazines -- I won't count Maxim for a second -- I think that it's interesting that women are drawn to those. And I don't really think that our role is to change that. I think that women are still looking for information, they are still looking for beauty tips and help with relationships and all those things. But I just don't think we give women as much credit anymore, if they do want to read the pieces like the ones that run in Elle. The problem is -- and I am interested to hear what you guys have to say too -- why is it that Cosmo sells better than Elle? Why is that Cosmo sells better, and Glamour sells better, and all of these a little bit more "fluffy magazines" sell so much better to women than the more serious ones? Or even a Vanity Fair or Mirabella.

Laurie Abraham: First, women and men are different. Women do look for different things in a magazine than men look for, just by virtue of who we are and who we aren't. When a good woman's magazine targets health stories, for instance, it's targeted to women. That's because the health industry itself doesn't target women. So we have to pick up the slack in terms of a certain kind of health editorial, which is one example of a great service area that particularly does well. So we have to decide whether we do want the same things from a woman's magazine and a men's magazine. And I think that we don't. At least from my perspective, they are two different views. I think a lot has to do with the business side of the magazine. We have to take into account how much pressure publishers, subscribers, and readers play. And I'm not sure if Debbie finds this plays a role in your magazine. Let me just get to the point. I think that a lot of times, the owners of the publications are afraid to do certain things. Nobody wants to get too dicey. There is this image of fluff, eye candy, pretty, fashion, beauty-which is great, I love it too-where they steer away from doing the harder-edge stories, which is what we're really talking about in many ways. It's whether there's a role for those hard-hitting stories in women's magazines, and there is. I think a lot of magazines do that. Glamour doesn't win a Public Service if they're not providing that kind of service. Those kind of pieces are hidden, in a way, in these magazines, but they're part of the mix. I just think that we're not paying enough attention to them.

Rachel: I guess the question is: How much do you think that fluff cover lines contribute to the stereotypes?

Debbie Stoller: I didn't get to answer the first question yet! I was just working on my answer, can I still answer it? By the way, you guys can't see my underwear if I'm sitting like this, can you? I also feel really dim-witted, honestly, I'm probably going to come off really stupid and you guys are all going leave hating me. I'm going try to not do that. I'm also going to come off sounding like a pretty old-school feminist, because I actually do think that the experience of being female in this culture is still substantially different from that of being male. Even though we live in the same world, I think the social and cultural experience of the female is different. And I've always appreciated the position that women's magazines have taken in forming a female culture. Before women's magazines, women didn't really have any way of feeling like they had any kind of common culture. It's really been one of the only cultural products that is completely devoted to women and women's issues. All the rest of the world -- I feel like all the rest of the media's products have men at their center and women kind of play. We're also allowed to watch and listen but I don't feel like most of those things are aimed directly at us. Women's magazines are. So, for that reason, they're interesting to me. One of the reasons that women's magazines get such a hard time -- to sound like Lucretia Mott once again -- is just simply because women's issues and concerns get short shrift in this culture. So that a magazine like Sports Illustrated, which is about sports, isn't considered a fluffy magazine. Sports is important because it's something that a lot of men are interested in, whereas a magazine about fashion is considered fluff because it's fashion. That's just my old-school opinion of it. So, I think women's magazines are important. And I think there is a role for women's magazines and…

Rachel: So how is fluff different? I mean, there was just this cover story of the New York Times Business section about fluff. It was a week or two before the city fell into chaos and it said that there's sort of this new girl order, to put it in your (Debbie's) phrase -- women's magazines that are coming out that are challenging stereotypes. I think what we should address is, considering that you are a panel of women that have worked for men, how do we challenge stereotypes?

Debbie Stoller: Well, one way that we [at Bust] are different from these other magazines on this esteemed panel is that a) we don't really make very much money, and b) we don't have very much money, and c) we still have kind of a small audience. So we, being small and scrappy and under the radar, allows us more freedoms than, possibly, these larger magazines do. I mean, they're dealing with millions of subscribers and readers and they're making money. So, it's kind of a different business model.

Rachel: One of the things that you could talk about is that you are actually right now using an advertising campaign to try to raise your circulation. You're up against some of the challenges that these guys are getting into, and the idea is that you have these pretty cutting-edge contributors…

Debbie: It's tough because I think everybody does have a pretty clear-cut, stereotyped vision of what women's magazines are and even among ourselves they end up feeling kind of like a joke. Women's magazines sometimes seem like they feel afraid to tell the entire truth. And what we've tried to do at Bust is to really tell the truth and let women talk and act snarky, and sexy and funny, and as sassy as they want to. And I think readers who find it enjoy that, but making that sell to advertisers is a new task that we are just at the beginnings of learning about.

Rachel: Let's get John's take on our questions so far.

John: Yes, there's a role for women's magazines today. And, case in point: the Taliban, for instance… uh, yeah they're bad. Some of the news magazines, the newsweeklies, certainly… TV stations-- they're really outraged, they can't believe it. "This Taliban, wow, they really treat women like shit, don't they?" I'm proud to say that Glamour has been covering that for quite some time, as surely as a number of other women's magazines have been doing for quite some time. Women's magazines, because they focus on women, as opposed to the world or the new Porsche, or computers or whatever, have an opportunity to focus in on topics that speak to women. These topics are always changing, of course, but because of that you cover different things, and these things matter. And in the case of these terrorist attacks, it's come to the forefront. The Taliban is bad, yes, and when the news outlets say this is the first time they've heard of it, the people at Glamour, the people at women's magazines say --Yeah, we told you that a year ago, didn't we? And it's gratifying.

Rachel: Then why is it that you think that so many people that create women's magazines are dissatisfied with it? And why is it that places like GQ and places like Esquire win more awards?

John: Are we dissatisfied? I don't know, I mean, I'm tired at the end of the day, because we have really high standards and my bosses kick my ass. I'm tired, but I'm not dissatisfied. As far as the awards, I think the GQ, the Esquire, the New Yorker, they'll give 7,000 or 8,000 words to a story about the flu epidemic of 1917, and we won't. I mean, it's just fact, and we're not gonna go there. We have a circulation of 2 million, a readership of 12 million, and we're not going spend 15 pages of edit on something that's really obscure. I love those stories and I read those stories - but it's just not gonna happen. Why doesn't Porsche have an SUV? They just don't, it's not part of the DNA.

Rachel: Right, but, the fact is, is that Glamour is a cash cow for Conde Nast. And the majority of the advertising pays for other magazines like the New Yorker to win those awards, correct?

John: That's correct. I don't know that for a fact, I don't see the ledgers, but I've heard similar things. I don't know what that means. We have a big umbrella at Glamour, we do a little bit of everything and women are voting with their checkbooks, I mean, with their pocketbooks. They go buy it on the newsstand, and something's working.

Rachel: So, I mean, how do the advertisers affect the stories that are printed?

Laurie Abraham: Not nearly as much as people think, I have to say. I have nothing to do with the fashion and beauty part of the magazine so I have to say that the advertising impinges more seriously on those parts. But with the parts I do work on, occasionally there may be a page question but other than that it's not a big deal. Because I'm in Features, I want more pages in Features. And our magazine is driven advertising-wise by the fashion coverage and the fashion advertising that is assumed to flow from that coverage. So I would be happy to get, in my own parochial view, fewer pages of fashion and more features. And that's somewhat of a battle at my magazine because it was started by a fashion photographer. So our level of fashion coverage is fairly set. But this idea that advertisers are looming large in our consciousness is really not the issue. It's how ambitious we choose to be -- how much we try to push the formula as individual editors within the limits. I mean, if you guys are editors, then you know, you make choices all the time about which story you're gonna take down to the editor-in-chief. I'm the executive editor, so I choose stories and say that I think we should do this differently -- it's not what we usually do but I really like this idea. So it's more work, and it's work at that more subtle level.

Kathy Bishop: I'll give you an example. There are some women in our audience who recently did a piece for us, and it was at Mode -- I don't know if everybody knows, but it's a magazine geared towards plus size or larger women. And one of the criticisms that we've had over the years is that we don't show large enough women. Well, that's because advertisers don't want to see them. And so you have this charming little conundrum of a magazine geared towards a certain audience, and advertisers not supporting that audience even though they're supposed to. The point in question is that we're doing a piece in our September issue on fat discrimination. Part of the thinking was: where would we find women who were sort of in that smaller-sized ballpark, but satisfy the story? This is crazy, you can see how totally nutty and kooky this is. But this is the reality of what we were doing then; this is just one small sample -- should we get a size 12 person, or should we get a 14? We really need that 14 person not the size 22 which would probably be a more obvious story. But part of that was because the fashion people, they were coming onboard slowly, and they didn't want to see larger women. It's scary.

Laurie: That is really interesting to me, and I'm sure there are other, more pernicious examples people could give. To tell you the truth, what I do now is just write it off. I see what I can do, and I write off the fact that we are doing a certain amount of fashion coverage that's set. I try to make incursions where I can in getting more pages, but I ignore it. I have to tell my friends -- You should read Elle, we do have good stories! There's a friend who just called me from Chicago after the World Trade Center, a very good friend of mine who hasn't read Elle, and I said, "I've been working on this World Trade Center package, it's really given me a focus, and I'm really enjoying it" -- if you can say that - "but it's given me some funnel for what I'm feeling." And she said, "God, what's Elle gonna do about the World Trade Center?" I told her to read the magazine! And she said, "I can't get past how thin your models are." And I was like, "Really? I never see it."

Chandra: I have to say that the whole time that I've worked in women's magazines, and this was because I was always in the Articles Department -- I never really had any pressures from advertising at all. Very rarely would we hear, "That's too sexy to go in the front of the book." Advertisers don't want sexy, and Cosmo can get really sexy in the front of the book, and that would be kind of upsetting. But I wasn't in Beauty or Fashion. I think that's an entirely different animal.

Debbie: I don't think we ever felt specific pressures from individualize advertisers. One time we used "fuck" in the magazine and they went ballistic, but it's more of an overall thinking. It's more like -- let's remember who's paying whose bread and butter! That's the challenge I find myself facing now, as Editor and Founder of Bust. And it's really pretty scary because up until now, we've been able to fund the magazine through small companies who get the magazine, women-owned companies or sex toy companies who have no problem with our content and are happy to support us. That's worked and that's been really fun. But as we grow to the next level, we need to get a wider, you know, larger advertising support, and we're starting to make those calls now. Some of the responses we get are difficult for me as an editor to figure out. And sometimes when I hear the ad sales girls say, "Well, they won't advertise with us because they don't like that we write about vibrators." My first instinct is, "Well, fuck them." And I get on my high horse,"Well, you know, the fact is that vibrators don't hurt anybody and this gives women pleasure the same way that those half-naked babes in Maxim give men pleasure. Why can't we write about this, it doesn't hurt anybody and da da da da da…"And then I was like, "Well, maybe we should put it in the back and make the picture a little smaller"…but then I'm like, "But no, then I'm really giving in!" And then I'm like, "But no, then I'm not gonna be able to do the magazine at all!" But then "Who cares? You'll be doing what you want to do!" It's really hard. It's difficult and it's really difficult as a women's magazine editor to really do what you want to do and go out there and try to get large financial support for it. Everybody here might have a different reason, but, like I said earlier, as an old-school feminist, I feel like we're still living in a sexist society and it's harder to get those things across. The same kind of language used in a women's magazine, the same kind of story, will be considered way more offensive than the exact same thing in Maxim written by a man. I just really think so. You can publish an issue of Esquire magazine with someone like Sam Donaldson on the cover. But you know, imagine that the female equivalent of Sam Donaldson was on the cover of a women's magazine-it would just never happen.

John: You don't see Esquire running Sam Donaldson on the cover anymore. They can't do it. And the idea that men's magazines are different than women's-GQ and Esquire are different. The rest are mimicking women's magazines. So, you know, it's not so cheeky over there anymore.

Debbie: I actually don't agree. I know that men's magazines are becoming as base and raunchy as they want to be, but I think that the formula that they follow is the opposite of women's magazines, most women's magazines. I feel that most women's magazines sell products -- there's a level of selling products. The magazine promises to tell you all the things you need to know to be okay. And it's always flooded with this anxious feeling like I've got to do all these things and I can't even think about worrying about my heel skin. And it turns out that that's not moist enough either. You know? As if I'm never really gonna be happy until I do that. And men's magazines are the opposite. I think men's magazines are sell products by making men think that they're way more attractive than they are. They really buff up men's egos.

Rachel: Both of you said you think there's differences in the psychology of women and men. And you're right. But women seem to respond more to the "Fix it" attitude, and men, they'll respond to "I'm great."

John: Well, I'm not wearing any makeup tonight! This whole sexist mentality, I think that's interesting. When I read GQ and Esquire -- I think Esquire's a brilliant magazine -- I go there to escape, to read about stuff I'm not gonna get anywhere else, to have a laugh. It's a really mellow experience. You know, I can see the Duraflame log over there, a little glass of wine -- it's very nice. And I think there's a certain aspect of women's magazines where the message is: I have to get this, I have to have that, I have to buy that -- the beauty and fashion stuff. I don't have much involvement with it, I don't deal with it at all. so I don't study that, I'm no expert at it. But I know that when I read Esquire, sometimes I'll look at the fashion section and go, "Oh, that's interesting," but mostly I just flip through it and get to the interesting profile of Jon Stewart or something like that. It's not about fixing anything, really. Maybe I should be fixing stuff, but it's not -- I don't care.

Rachel: I love Esquire for the articles. Playboy too. There's a perception that what we're doing is good to distinguish ourselves, good for the mix, good to create a niche, but what's really selling those ads? It's that 8 pages of hardcore beauty copy. It's that 50 pages of fashion.

Debbie: Yeah, I think it's true it's the only way that we can find ad dollars is from fashion and beauty companies. And it seems like that still is the main place that women's magazines go to. What I've tried to do with Bust is to take the opposite strategy of what I see is being taken in most women's magazines -- try to make a magazine that actually makes women feel good about themselves. Not by presenting positive role models, which is one strategy that some women's magazines have: "You should read this… oh, these are great women," but just by giving you stuff that's funny and talks about everything and is honest. And makes you feel like you have pride. And the little things that the fashion magazines do. But it also means that we don't spend very much time on fashion or beauty at all because, in my life, I think that stuff is cool and fun, but it takes away this much of my brain, and a lot more of my brain is devoted to things like knitting and completely other things. But I do think there's a tradition of getting money from fashion and beauty advertisers, but they want to cover fashion and beauty.

Debbie: One magazine that I think did a really good job of breaking that hold is Wired magazine, which sort of came in with this idea that they could sell consumer technology and fashion and car ads in the same issue. It's almost sort of taking that "break the whole model"?? of a magazine like that and tying it to the women's magazine model, which it seems to me that you're gonna make an attempt to do and I really look forward to seeing what happens.

Rachel: Well, I think the other question is: what topics are taboo? What can you absolutely not write stories about?

Chandra: I think what happens is that we're almost too positive. We skip telling about when things are bad for you. We don't really want to tell you that the only way to lose weight is to work out more and eat less. Or that really you have to work out 5 times a week to actually lose weight. We say, "Make it simple, make it easy." But then are tentative to tell the whole truth, and the whole picture. "And you can do it!" We're almost too empowering sometimes.

Debbie: To me, anything that's not completely authentic is taboo. So we try not to put something in that's just kind of women's magazine-y or what people want to be hearing from us. It's not effective if you don't actually believe in it. Even an item of clothing, if we would never wear it or ever consider spending that kind of money for it, we will not do it. And so basically everything else is open. We'll write about feeling really insecure or we'll write about, I don't know, feeling dirty or whatever. As long as it feels authentic.

Debbie: I know something that's taboo for John['s magazine], because one of your writers called me about this quote that I had given them. They called me and asked, "What should women do in bed to make sure that they come first?" And I said, well, one of the things they should do is really believe that they have as much of a right to orgasm in bed as men do. Because men really believe in their inherent right to that. I mean, men will go to all kinds of lengths-they'll dress up like babies with diapers on, they'll cover themselves in baby oill--whatever it takes, men will do to have an orgasm. And she called me and she was like, "Well, we can't really run that thing about the babies in the diapers."

Laurie: I have another risqué Glamour story, though I sort of changed it. I wrote a story for Glamour -- my first relationship story, as they're known. First and last. And I quoted from my best friend all through school who's from Cleveland, Ohio like I am. The story was something about reviving your sex life. And she told me that she and her husband had sex -- they had been married like, 8 years -- they had sex 5 times a week. And so I wanted to put this in, but it was edited out and it was actually changed to 3 times a week! Because the editor couldn't believe a married couple, married for 8 years, was having sex 5 times a week.

John: No, no, we have a very thorough research department…

Laurie: A problem of a lot of women's magazines have is that they rely on composite characters. This happens to any magazine that deals in these relationship stories, which involve interviewing a lot of people. They always do composites, they always take out information that is disconcerting. And that's the way it works. So if you're doing that kind of story, that's what you do. It's not good, because I feel like it reads like Teflon. You know it's a lie. You don't know exactly how it's a lie, but you feel like it's a lie. We luckily don't do those kind of stories -- just because it's not part of our mix. I mean, I'm not saying it makes me any better, it's just how the magazine started. It's hard, those are hard.

John: I've heard stories of those stories, and I tell you, the solution these days at Glamour isn't to come up with a quote you really like and then find a way to attach it to somebody. No, our solution is to get on the phone and call some more people until you get a good quote.

Rachel: But that's another version of the same thing!

John: No, I don't think so.

Laurie:: You see a lot of women's magazine copy that says keep that quote TK -- as if we're going to fill in this point with a point we've already made, and we're going to get the right quote for it. I mean, that's really what you're talking about. To say, in those relationship stories, that there are certain things that are taboo, that are off-limits -- I mean, despite all this stuff, I think what's going on here is we as readers, as more literary people, have the desire for more ambitious stories, and the fact is, our magazines can't support that. But that's what we all lament. But that's not the fundamental issue if you care about your reader. That's why we have the New Yorker, you know -- there are magazines that do that stuff. The fundamental issue is how we lie about sex and how we lie about how women live. I mean, I do feel we engage in a certain amount of lying. But, I do feel that women's magazines, and I do feel the new men's magazines -- I don't know, I don't really read them -- do the same thing. It is a little troubling, you know, I'm not doing anything major about it in my life to change it, but it's troubling.

Rachel: Then why aren't you doing anything major about it to change it?

Laurie: Well, I don't have to do that kind of article, that's one thing.

Laurie: It's not advertisers, it's fear. We're in a really bad market. I think people are just afraid of standing up for something and saying no, we can't do it this way. You know, particularly a lot of these magazines are really lead by one personality that's like a figurehead…

Rachel: I think now we really leading into a new world which women's magazines are lead by celebrities. I mean, the most popular and successful magazines right now are Oprah's new magazine and Rosie's -- she ran a picture of herself with no makeup, fat or overweight or whatever you call it. With a staph infection on her hand! It was like a glove bandage. That was a pretty big deal. I'm wondering whether that was the power of her celebrity that allows her to do that.

Chandra: I know that at places that I've worked at before, like Cosmo and Glamour and YM -- even though they're monthly magazines -- you really don't have that much time. Sometimes, 3 days before we have to ship a piece, we've completely started fresh with it. We work like newspapers, it's ridiculous sometimes. What happens is that we pick, you know, "The Surprising 6 Signs That He's Into You." We come up with those, in-house, just as Laurie was saying. Then we reject all of the ones that an actual guy came up with! They aren't fresh enough -- they're the ones that really do exist and we've heard them before because they're true. Then we have to come up with these new, fresh ones to please our editor, or we are going to be there at 5:00 in the morning rewriting the story. This is what happens when you're a Senior Editor. You have to write the story.

Debbie:: When we first started out, it was such a big deal to make your statement. Like, you didn't want to do anything that would dent it. Here we were dealing with people's self-esteem in a very significant way. We didn't want to take a chance. Why are we doing the same old crap that we've read since we were seventeen? Part of it is because there's a fear of involvement, and I think that's where the conservatism of the industry steps in. That's where media buyers come in. It's a much more conservative industry than I realized.

Question and Answer:
Nancy, editor of the Jersey Monthly:
One thing I noticed is when you were all talking about fighting the truths of what's going to sell your magazine. I think, after the falling of the World Trade Center, that people's ability to consume and be concerned with only the most frivolous part of life, i.e. what they buy, is sort of dissipating and now there's a certain level of political awareness. So that, when I look forward to next year, I think I'm going to suddenly be able to change some of the things that I'll be covering in the magazine. There may be a place for the sort of articles that I haven't been able to cover before. And I was going to ask you if you anticipate that as well in your magazines for next year.

Debbie: Actually, I've heard that, during war and times of terrible tragedy, certain vices continue to sell well -- like cigarettes, alcohol, and magazines. I know for Bust, we've stayed away from political stuff because I think other magazines do a really good job of that, and we just try to give pleasure. Now I'm more likely to print those kind of stories. But on the other hand, I do think that people are still going to turn to magazines as an escape, for some sort of comfort. A more serious tone is going to be reflected in the magazine, but people still might like it just for what it gives.

John: Page Six went away for about 3 or 4 days -- it's back. I think that magazines of all stripes have a responsibility to deal with it, to cover the World Trade Center tragedy, to cover the Taliban, what have you. But it's not going to eliminate other stuff. It's part of the mix -- it's part of who we are now -- we can't deny that. If we deny that, we're doing our readers a disservice. I think it will be part of it. It's not gonna dominate or overwhelm this industry.

Debbie: If we don't write about "The 6 Secret Ways Men Like You," it means the terrorists win.

Janet, a magazine writer: How can you attract serious journalists and writers to women's magazines, to do these kind of stories?

John: The way to attract great writers is to be a great editor, pay them a good wage, and stick to your guns, have strong journalistic ethics-I don't know how to respond other than that. It's how I've always attracted good writers, hopefully great writers and I'm not going to stop now. I don't know why it should be any different at a woman's magazine than it would be at Esquire, I really don't. Maybe it has been in the past, maybe it is at a lot of places-I don't see there's any reason there should be.

Debbie: My answer is kind of fucked up. But we've been really lucky at Bust because people know that we are willing to print stuff that other women's magazines aren't. A lot of people have offered to write pieces for us -- like in the issue I'm working on now, there's someone who's traveling really far away and pitched this story to me. And I was like, "I can't pay for your traveling expenses, I don't think you're gonna want to write this for us." And he was like "No, I really want to write it for you because I know you're gonna let me write it the way I want to write it." We're lucky, we can get some really great people who are willing to write for us. For them, the trade-off is that then, unfortunately, they don't get paid very much, and that sucks too. They write it for us because they can do what they want but then we can't -- it's almost insulting what we can afford, at this point, to pay them.

Kirstin, a freelancer from Brooklyn: I want to write for those more serious, 1917-flu-epidemic type of markets. But every time I open up The Atlantic, Harper's or the New Yorker, the vast majority of contributors are men and let's face it, it's really hard as a woman to try to write for those magazines and the stewardship and encouragement is missing. My question is, would Western civilization collapse if you were to put in a longer feature? I did talk to an editor here tonight, and she was saying, you know, that the reasoning is, people won't buy it -- but they're already buying it!

Rachel: You're experiencing a ghetto as a woman, trying to go into The Atlantic or Harper's -- that's worrisome. Are you saying it's because you contact them and you're saying you write for women's magazines? Or is it the stories that you're suggesting to them?

Kirstin: I look every week at who's contributing. And in the New Yorker, it's 10-15 contributors every week, 2 or 3 of which are women. And so, I can't help but think, if this is not a men's magazine, why aren't there more women contributing?

John: It's hard to be a man trying break into Harper's! But I'm not saying it's not somewhat harder being a woman. I think some of the women writing for the New Yorker in the past were doing definitely more female articles. And now that's dissipated somewhat. And there's this network of men who know each other from Ivy League institutions, (there are a few women that go there too) and they work their way in. I mean, it's a bitch. But basically, freelance writing is a bitch and if you want to do it, you either have to care about something so much that you're willing to write a lot of query letters. When I was freelancing, I would spend three weeks writing a query letter. And then you can maybe get one of those magazines to look at your stuff. But, the trade-off is -- and I'm not saying it's fair-but the trade-off is then you occasionally get to write something you care about. And it's hard, it's a hard business, freelance writing. And it doesn't pay well.

Jennifer Ann from Chickclick, Senior Editor: My question is about your pseudo-lying on sex stories -- what about interfacing more with your readers and getting their true stories? Do you have an opportunity through your online extensions of your magazine brand to really open into a dialogue with your readers and reflect the issues, in a dialogue that they're having with other readers?

Chandra: At Cosmo we did, but not as much as I think we should have. The online helps immensely, because it's much faster obviously and there is reader feedback, but I don't think we take advantage of that enough. We tend to -- and not the editors, we have freelance writers who usually write our stories -- they tend to interview their friends, and their friends, for the most part, live in New York City, usually, or the Tri-State area. So I don't feel like we're getting to the reader. I think we try, we want to, but because in a lot of these women's magazines you don't require then to say their first and last name and where they are from. The writers are desperate to turn in good quotes, they have to get these perfect quotes, and they're like, well, should I get one from the typical woman who is living in Indiana-where I'm from. Or is it easier where I know more people? So we don't get the feedback from the readers because it takes a lot more work.

A: Shouldn't you just require fact-checking? It seems to me that these writers should go out and find us. Get on the net, interview people-

Chandra: Yes, ideally yes, of course.

A: Why don't you seek out, or don't you care to seek out, journalists who can do this?

Chandra: Frankly, I think the really good journalists get frustrated writing for women's magazines. Why should they spend their life writing Seven Tips For Greater Sex? It may be something you do sometimes to pay the bills or something, and it may have its certain payoffs -- maybe you learn something, right? But I mean, come on, this cannot be the height of someone's journalistic career.

A: What about the other stories, serious stories?

Laurie: Well, I don't; think any of this applies to serious stories. And I want to make this point. If you're doing a reported piece, it's different. I feel like there's this formulaic thing that goes on with the relationship stories, because the only way we get around it is by doing first-person essays. So it's one person's voice, speaking about sex, and so, you know, maybe she lies about her own life. But it has a little bit more authenticity maybe. So if you do these round-up pieces about people's relationships, you get in this trap. People say boring stuff, they're inarticulate! Maybe people in New York are wittier, I don't know. But if you're dealing in that format, you have that problem.

A: Hi, I'm a Managing Editor at Harper's Bazaar. I think one of the challenges is that advertisers fail people by not having a lot communication with the editors. They're going out and selling ads very similar to what works, at Glamour, at Vogue, at magazines that are successful. And advertisers can afford to be conservative because it works. Maybe we're all tired of reading about the same things, but there's still a reader out in Kentucky or Oregon who's gonna pay to buy that magazine, and the advertisers know that and they bank on it. And I'm just curious, for the Editors-In-Chief up there in particular: do you have a lot of communication with the advertising people on how they sell the magazine in particular? Are you getting the real perceptions of the advertisers, what they might actually be scared to take a risk on? Because I know in my experience, a lot of times an editor has said, "We can't do that, the advertisers won't like it." But sometimes you've got to actually take that risk.

Debbie: I'm right now at Bust trying, really trying, to get an Ad Sales person to ask people who turn us down what their problem is. Because I think we tend to second-guess too much what they're upset about. It's important to really engage, even if you're not gonna make the sale, just to find out really clearly what it is that they're averse to. Because I think there is that problem of giving a self-fulfilling prophecy or undercutting ourselves. But I also am feeling kind of energized by this group and thinking back to my original mission with Bust magazine. And you know, I think about things like the success of stuff like the Vagina Monologues and even Sex In The City -- I don't know if you guys like it or not. (I do!) These are things that started really small and then people really start to show up en masse. The Vagina Monologues were at Madison Square Garden! Who would've thunk it? So maybe we all just have to hold our ground and just hang in there. We as women are really ready for a huge fucking change in women's magazines. And somehow the change won't happen yet. This is going to make me sound like a moronic idealist, but maybe there is a way to just hang in there. Like I said, it seems like the people who read our magazine are weary of that stuff. Maybe eventually if more and more people come on board, we'll be able to convince the advertisers that they're wrong. I've always thought the advertisers don't inherently have a morality. They just want to sell their products. And they don't want to advertise in you because the readers are going be turned off to see their products there. Maybe we can convince them that people are really into this, and then that's where they're going to put their money. I hope.

Chandra Czape: But the reality is that they actually do wield a lot of power, and their influence is very specific. An advertiser will get a sense that they need to go in 'X' direction and this is the image that they want to portray that month. I mean, it's kind of whimsical like that. And the ad department will have sold space that's fashion or teen-oriented, thinking specifics. And then they come back and suddenly it's like, "Well, can't you just shift it a little bit so that it fits this new idea of what this advertiser had in mind? That's where it gets scary. And, you know, a lot of times you'll come up with an editorial line-up, but the ad department, they'll start to sell it, but they don't even have quite an in-depth understanding of what it is that they're selling. And part of that is because the article hasn't even come in yet. You know, and you don't know. I mean, unless you're the type of publication that says, "I want X, Y and Z in this article and if you don't get it don't come back here," you think that maybe your writer will have to discover something and maybe it will take a new direction and will be lead by the piece. You know, surprise. So, that's where it get confusing. The ad department says "Sell this," but they don't really know what the content is about. And sometimes there is a struggle -- I hate to say it but I've experienced it -- there is a struggle of trying to make both sides happy.

Debbie: I'm just thinking, look at what they've done to us. I think that what you all did at Mode was completely awesome and worthy of so much respect. But do different-sized women really need different magazines? I hang out with women of a variety of sizes.

Kathy: If they want to dress and look great (and I like to), they do need it. They don't have products out there directed towards them.

Debbie: Wouldn't it be possible to have a fashion magazine that has stuff for women of a variety of sizes?

Kathy: Absolutely, that's the goal. I think that's the future and maybe that's what Rosie and Oprah are leaning toward and maybe that will happen.

Question: My point of contention with women's magazines is that the idea of age. One of the big differences between Glamour and Esquire is that the average age of the Esquire reader is almost 10 years older than the average Glamour reader. How old is your average reader, and to what extent do you feel the pressure to dumb-down? Are these youth pressures rather than gender pressures?

Debbie: At Bust, our average age of reader is 26, but they're really smart and so we try to put a lot of words in there that even they don't understand! No, no, we assume that they're smart and totally make it as smart as possible, I believe.

John: I'm not on the marketing side, but all the numbers that I've seen and all the things I've heard is that the magic number is right around 30. And we go about 10 years younger and about 10 years older and that's really our focus. I didn't know that about Esquire but I believe it.

Debbie: I'm almost 39, and I also like a lot of dumb things as 39-year-old, so I have to dumb it down for me.

Chandra: I don't think it's any different. Cosmo's for 18-30 year old women, roughly. A bigger seller on college campuses, so, a 22-year-old woman is the target audience. And I think it is pretty similar for the other women's magazines.

Laurie: Elle's average age is 30.

Question:: I'm Cheryl Alkon, I was the Editor for Gurl.com (for teen girls.) And my question is that, if you all work in women's magazines, and you talk about them so negatively, why do you stay with them?

John: I like my magazine.

Chandra: And you know what? Everyone here does. Of course, Debbie, you know, she's singular. But…

Laurie: I was talking to John, and he does like his magazine. I think my magazine does a lot of good pieces. My ambition is to run big issues that have a lot of advertising like the big fashion months in March and September and a couple months around there. We've had 5,000 words and more pieces that we've run, and I'm hoping we can run one 8,000-word piece that really unpacks. It would have to be the perfect piece for us. I think we do a lot of good writing or I wouldn't be able to stay there. And I'm sure everyone else feels the same way. You don't love every element of your magazine and you're partial to the one you work on, but the ambivalence is sort of intrinsic to living.

John: I just want to say one thing. In my time at Glamour, I've yet to have a top editor say, "Could you make this a little bit dumber?" Maybe that's your perception of certain areas that don't appeal to you. There are sections of the book that I've never read because, they just well-the makeup tips, I'm not likely to read, it's just not interesting to me. My challenge is to try to make it smarter and I constantly make it smarter. I don't feel like anyone at Glamour wants to make this a dumb magazine. I just don't see it.

Debbie: But, since we started out with this, I think that some of the stuff that even we as women hate about women's magazines, is part of our own self-hatred as women. Because at Bust I'll write about some t-shirt that I think is really cool. And my writers go, "No, don't write about that, that's so horrible! How can you do that? You're just being like all the other guys!" And well, I personally love Allure because it doesn't even pretend that it's about anything except the most frivolous things. And it's so honest about it that I really enjoy that. But I think that being educated is one form of pleasure that we experience as women. I think decorating ourselves, if you're that kind of a chick, can be another form of pleasure. I don't think that writing about fashion is necessarily dumb. Like I said, I don't think it's any dumber than writing about sports. I don't really like sports. But I think we need to be careful about that. I want to create a female culture that we all can really be proud of and I think it's gonna incorporate a lot more maybe than we even think.

Rachel: But one of things that we said that this was going to be a prescription. So maybe we can say a few things we want to keep in mind.

John: Stick with the journalism; don't take any short cuts; don't make shit up. That's the key.

Kathy: On the same score, I'm actually very surprised sometimes by the level of reporting that goes on in a story. And I think I have been interested particularly in writers who are purely brought up in the women's magazine world. So when a story requires reporting, do the reporting. I mean, that ups the level for everybody. I don't think we should rely on one source when we can get three. And since it is paying your way, and you are doing those, you can't apply the same level of journalism on a story like that to a big feature reporting story. That's one take on writers.

Debbie: My three things are: Don't give up the fight; just try to stay true to yourself and tell the truth, 'cause I think it's gonna help make things better for everyone.

Chandra: I would have to agree with what John says on credibility. I think the Editor-In-Chief can do a huge change by requiring fact-checking on all quotes. Also, picking quality experts who won't budge. And I think that we can vote with our pocketbooks. Like she said, we can buy Bust and buy the magazines that show the advertisers who we support. And, we know a lot of women buy Esquire and GQ and I think that says a lot too. But if we keep reading, then we'll keep putting it out exactly the same.

Laurie: Sex and death and work -- all of life, and everything can be fit in there. And if you can do narratives that approach all those areas, then…good.

Rachel: One last thing for all of you: go back to your Editor-In-Chief and challenge them on one story a month. If we all do that, we can make a change. So that's one little, practical thing you can do. Just walk away from here and challenge one story. If we all do it together, how can they fight us?

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