The Future is Female

Gender coverage at the New York Times: A Roadmap

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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 landscape that documents them. In America today, it is now women who earn the majority of 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 most recent election, there is an unprecedented movement afoot -- and it is 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 women. Since then, that need has gone from pressing to urgent. Engaging women, and millennial women in particular, is crucial not just journalistically, but to the economic future of any organization that strives to remain relevant. The Times’ journalism is more important at this moment than ever before, yet there remains a gap: between the way the stories are covered and the way young women are living them; between those who speaking as experts and the audience they’re talking to; between the formats these stories are being delivered in and the way young women consume media. With that gap comes opportunity. As seemingly every outlet clamors to get into the “women’s content” game, the Times should set the standard.

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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 race and class.

  • Rigorous review of editorial policies, from micro systems like rules about pronoun usage to photography headlines. [Things to avoid: A story about a Top 10 pro-golfer appearing on the cover of the sports section illustrated by an image of her sweeping the kitchen; an obituary about a female rocket scientist probably shouldn’t lead with her beef stroganoff; let’s never again make the mistake of referring to a black woman as “angry”.]

  • Put together an internal advisory board across desks and departments. This group’s job is to serve as a sounding board for issues of gender, from pointing out copy policies that need to be updated (ie: “mistress”) to elevating research trends around women and mobile.

Define the Coverage

  • Stories about gender
  • Stories through a gender lens
  • Stories that appeal to women (but aren’t necessarily about women)
  • Coverage of the resistance movement
  • Coverage across platforms

Don’t Segregate the Content

This demographic cares deeply about gender issues, and 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.

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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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?

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 visual imagery is processed faster -- 60,000 times faster, according to one study -- and yet it is also women who rule visual platforms like Instagram and Pinterest.

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 affairs and investigative, but with attention paid to gender angles within those areas. In addition, a more rigorous approach to (in no particular order):

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Men.

The role of men in the new world order, where, by 2018, wives will outearn their husbands in America.

Stories to Assign Today:
  • Getting to know the white men who, according to the latest PerryUndem poll, think it’s worse to be a man than a woman right now.
  • The rise of academic programs studying masculinity and its role in everything from mass shootings to terrorism.
  • The return of “men’s camps” -- 1970s-style sleepaway excursions for guys who want to get back in touch with their masculinity.
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Race.

WFor 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? How does the movement get "woke"?
  • A deep, historical look at the long racist history of the mainstream women’s movement, and its impact on the color rift in the modern uprising.
  • Profiles: Eileen Welteroth, the black 27-year-old editor of Teen Vogue; Cleo Wade, model turned Instagram poet; Angela Davis, the 1970s activist who is more active than we’ve seen her in years; Yara Shahidi, the 17-year-old Blackish star who is a voice for intersectional youth feminism; the founders of the Women’s March.
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The Resistance.

Assign a designated reporter to cover this as a beat, from the political players to online activism to how the public is getting their information.

Stories to Assign Today:
  • A dispatch from Women’s March HQ. What’s next? 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?
  • At Colorado State University, students last week built a mock “wall” and boycotted a gender studies class. How are campuses responding?
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Sexuality.

Fifty Percent of millennials believe gender exists on a spectrum. This generation is approaching 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:
  • How will new campus policies affect Title IX and campus rape?
  • Understanding gender fluidity (pegged to latest poll numbers)
  • College courses and workshops cropping up on “how to love,” aiming to teach young people what it means to be intimate without a phone in your hand at all times.
  • A more serious look at trends like ghosting and breadcrumbing and gaslighting in modern dating for young women.
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Opinion.

Sunday Review, gender edition. A rotating rolodex of voices weighing in on news issues of the moment. Let’s 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 anti-Trump women’s movement?
  • Does representation really matter? A look at the data (pegged to Beyonce’s Grammy speech).
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New Columns.

  • Feminist Table for Three.
    A regular interview series featuring unlikely pairings of individuals talking about the issues of the day. Jennifer Lawrence interviews Lily Ledbetter on Equal Pay Day. Chelsea Clinton in convo w the Bush sisters. Ruby Bridges (the first black girl to desegregate schools in 1960) interviews the three female founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, etc.
  • Ask a Feminist.
    Like the feminist ethicist -- a humorous advice column for navigating tricky situations in the new world order, like whether or not the man should pay on a first date, when it’s mansplaining and when it’s just explaining something, what to do if you’re a woman with a terrible female boss even though you know you’re supposed to support female leaders.
  • 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 commissions women in different fields to tell a story of a failure.

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, with Roxane Gay.
  • Werk. A podcast on issues of women and the workplace, from being constantly told we’re apologizing too much to what to do if you have to cry. Service meets journalism.

Newsletter

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

Mobile-Only Content.

The Washington Post just announced “The Lilly,” a mobile-only app that will live on Instagram, Medium and Facebook targeted at millennial women. What’s the Times version of this?

Service Journalism.

It doesn’t have to suck! There’s a reason people flock to “36 Ways to Fall in Love” and “How to Start Running”--they’re useful, and perhaps more importantly they’re profitable. What’s the gender version of service content? A proposal:

  • Motherload meets the Upshot meets New York Magazine's "Science of Us," but for gender at work. This blog / column / mobile app would feature daily takes on the latest studies that take into account the very specific experience of being female in the working world. The new academic research coming out in this realm is abundant, in part because corporations are desperate to fix their "diversity" problems. Stories might include:

    • How to Successfully Cry at Work (if You're a Woman), based on new research out of Harvard.
    • 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. Do they really work?
    • Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
    • How to stop interruptions in meetings

Bringing Archives to Life.


Video by Jessica Bennett for Tumblr

There is endless fodder in the Times archives for new and cutting edge gender content. Among the ideas:

Reliving History.
A weekly feature digging into the Times archives to see how times have changed -- or in some cases, haven’t. In this article, the Times declares, "At Manless Dinner, Women Speak of the Accomplishments of Their Sex," reads a headline from 1915. Manless dinner, really?!

Social Media.
Weekly TBTs on Instagram looking back on advertising and articles, courtesy of the morgue. In this 1970 ad, for example, Bali touts “How to wear a bra and look like you're not." Turns out, with a bit more archival digging, that bra executives were hysterical during this time-period, worried that even non-hippie women would stop wearing them. One bra executive called the era “bosom consciousness.” Gems like this are a dime a dozen. Let's roll them out in a coordinated effort.

A Google Maps Plugin.
The New York Public Library partnered with Google to create a walking map through Manhattan, complete with historical information and archival footage woven into the tour -- on your phone. 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)? For women’s history month, the Times could roll out a walking tour, noting famous places in women’s history, photos that were taken there, and the corresponding articles that ran with them.

This Day in History.
The Skimm has a Google calendar plug-in, Skimm Ahead, that inserts daily reminders about television shows, album release dates, and important political dates into my calendar automatically. Why not create a subscribe version of this for women’s history? Each day could feature a short blurb and links to Times articles about what happened on this day in women’s history.

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 Donald 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 and EMILY’s List, which offer free educational programs on how to get started. Let’s choose six women who plan to run for office -- three from each side -- and follow them on their path.

Documenting the First Year

How will a post-Trump world really affect women? Give recorders to six women in six locations and ask them 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 giant spreadsheet, seen by no one. Partner with this group, or another, to create an interactive map showcasing the wage gap across industry and company. Pair that information with data about the things that have been proven to impact the wage gap: government parental leave policies, government data about state parental leave policies that i with information about

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 the 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 millennial woman's guide to fighting sexism at work (HarperCollins, Sept. 2016), which has grown into a and an online community in the hundreds of thousands. She was the first journalist to profile Monica Lewinsky in a decade; has covered sexual consent on college campuses, spent time with Paula Broadwell, 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 covering social issues. She went on to cofound a multimedia journalism initiative at Tumblr, and has consulted for a range of media outlets, from Cosmopolitan (where she helps edit a regular section on women and work) to Vocativ to Sheryl Sandberg's women's nonprofit, LeanIn.org, where she worked with Getty Images to launch a photography collection and grant program focused on diversifying stock imagery. She is also a former columnist at Time. She just really, really wants to help the New York Times expand its gender coverage.