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Episode

62

JENNIFER REITMAN COVERS CULTURAL
ISSUES THROUGH THE LENS OF WOMEN

Jennifer Reitman is the founder and publisher of DAME Magazine, a digital news site covering the issues of our time through the lens of women. DAME provides critical context around the political, cultural and societal issues of our time. Independent, women-owned and women edited, DAME breaks through conventional narratives to deliver the insight readers need to understand today’s complex cultural landscape.

IN THIS EPISODE:

 

In this episode we talk about:

 

• What Jennifer is most passionate about — driving equality in the media landscape.

• Jennifer's journey to starting DAME magazine.

 

• How she launched a magazine.

 

• The current state of media and how it's changed.

• Improving the quality of media.

Improving t

• Why the media needs to remain independent.

 

• The voice of a DAME journalist.

• Covering feminism.

• DAME’s plan moving into this intensified election period.

• Covering the Black Lives Matter movement and racial issues.

• The overall vision for DAME in the years ahead.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

 

Passionistas: Hi and welcome to The Passionistas Project Podcast. We’re Amy and Nancy Harrington. And today we're talking with Jennifer Reitman, the founder and publisher of DAME magazine. DAME provides critical context around the political, cultural and societal issues of our time. Independent women-owned and women-edited DAME breaks through conventional narratives to deliver the insight readers need to understand today's complex cultural landscape.

So please welcome to the show. Jennifer Reitman.

Jennifer Reitman: So happy to be here. Thank you.

Passionistas: Really looking forward to talking to you. What's the one thing you're most passionate about?

Jennifer: It's clearly about driving equality in the media landscape. We live in a world where women are just over 51% of the population, but we own only 11% of all media. And this is coupled with holding only 37% of all media and journalism jobs. And I always say that that when you look at those statistics, what that tells us is that the stories that are being told the framing of the news is an, is an incomplete picture because those voices aren't equally reflected.

Passionistas: How do you make sure those voices are reflected through the magazine?

Jennifer: First and foremost, of course, is that we're a hundred percent women edited. And our stories themselves, the news we cover is bylined, I would say 99.9, 9% by women. Occasionally we'll publish a story by a man, but nearly everything is bylined by women. And that, that matters. And it matters because the language we use, the framing, the context and the analysis, when you're looking to create equality in media, you have to have that reflected in the stories and in the coverage.

Passionistas: Tell us your journey from before you started DAME. What happened leading up to that?

Jennifer: I've worked in the publishing industry for very long time, the reason I came out to California in fact, was to work for a small, independent print publishing company. And one of those titles happened to be what at the time was called a laddy book at guys magazine, sort of in the Maxim, FHM, Esquire category. And what I, what I found working there was here was this, this magazine that was targeting young men and it was humorous and irreverent, but it had great long form reporting. And it didn't talk about men's bodies. It didn't talk about how to be a better lover. It didn't talk about rooming tips. Maybe it did a little bit, but it, but it wasn't front and central and, and sort of the, the germ of, uh, of the idea for DAME really started then that I thought, gosh, women's publishing just doesn't really look like me or my friends or the, or really reflect the kinds of conversations that I was having.

And so the idea primarily started then, and this was a, you know, the nineties, but I had always been influenced by magazines because my father, funny enough work to publishers clearing house when I was a young girl. And so we had stacks and stacks and stacks of magazines in the house all the time. And I realized sort of the power of the written word, probably as young as, you know, seven, six or seven. And so it's always been in my bones, but I think that the idea that there was a place in the market for women's media, that wasn't about fashion beauty or sex tips really started the nineties. And, and as we got into the, you know, the two thousands, I started to sit down and really write down the business plan for the brand.

Passionistas: Having worked at magazines, how did you figure out how to actually launch your own?

Jennifer: Um, gosh, I don't even know if I figured it out yet today when I first came up with the idea for DAME, the plan was to be in print, frankly, because it was 2008 when the original idea came to me. And so I, I just took years of having worked in the business in terms of what does the right advertising model look like? What is the right circulation model look like? And who are the people that I know can carry forward from an editorial standpoint, the vision that I have for the brand, but that's evolved, you know, like any smart business. And I, I hope that we're a smart business. We change we've pivoted many times because people change culture changes, society changes it's happening right now, as we're on this call. So the original vision was, I think cheekier more irreverent, more in the vein of Jessica Bell perhaps, or even Jane the original vision was not something so focused on social justice, but, but we had to evolve over the years. And that that pivot really came, I would say in 2012 backstory, we had to close down for a little while when I originally launched because of the great recession, like so many media outlets. And so Dame really came back in, in full effect in 2014, but, but we started testing a new model in 2012. So the business evolved over the years, but, but the original concept, you know, was really just best practices in terms of publishing publishing and reaching an audience. And that's, that's grown over the years.

Passionistas: Talk a little bit about the current state of media and how it's changed and some of the challenges that you're facing.

Jennifer: Is this the part of the interview where I start to cry? Well, the current and the, you know, the current state of our union, as we say, the current state of, of, of media is dire it's frankly dire, but it's not, it's not as a result of, of this administration necessarily. That's been amplified with his enemy of the people language. My beloved industry has been suffering for a very long, long time. And so I worry tremendously about it because there are lots of sayings about journalism, right? The first drafted history, but really you don't have democracy without a free and fair press. And while on the business side of things, there's been a erosion for years and years in terms of what works from a business model and how to survive financially, what brings me great, great concern is the erosion in trust of, of the institution of press today.

And so on the business side, I think you'll see things, you know, things will change and models will pivot and tech, new technologies will come out and, and those who survive, and those who don't. But so I'm a little less concerned about that and tremendously concerned around how do we, as an industry, how do we encourage people and get them to understand the role of, of our business in their daily lives? And this is particularly important at the local level. DAME is obviously not a local news outlet. Many of our stories are pegged to local news issues, but, but we don't, we're not a beat outlet and say, you know, Bennis, California, we are the guard rails in so many ways. You know, we, we are the ones who, who, it's not about the big stories that you read in the New York times or Washington post, as important as those are.

We're the ones who talk about embezzlement at your city council level, right? Or, you know, school, board issues, pothole fixes, and, and those that's important as essential as, as anything else that goes on at the federal level. And so when you see such a distrust of the media and such disdain for the reporters who are in large part, not all of them, but in large part, the majority are here to help you. The citizen. It really is heartbreaking as someone who works in this business, we're here to protect you from bad people and bad things through information, through context and through analysis. And, and so my, my short, but very long answer is that is what worries me the most.

Passionistas: So how do you combat that?

Jennifer: Transparency. The very quick and dirty answer is you change administrations first and you get a government in place that actually believes in the first amendment believes in freedom of the press and, and does things to, to support it. But, but we all know that already at the, at the business level, at the, at the platform, at the outlet level, it's about transparency in so many ways. It's about, it's about putting faces to your writers and editors. It's about showing your work. There's a little inside baseball thing. When you're editing a story. A lot of times you'll send a note back to a writer saying, show, don't tell meaning, where are the sources on this? Explain, you know, explain this in detail. Don't just tell us what, what you see, give, give examples to demonstrate why this is such, you know, such and such.

And, and I think we have to, we have to do a better job as a, as an industry at large at showing what is fact checking me, right? What does, when we call sources, what's the process of that? Why did this story get picked and not another story? There's lots of work around that in terms of, of, you know, solutions, journalism as well, not just sort of hyperbolic headlines, but actually really tying in what's happening in certain communities. And who's actually doing the work to either fix or solve or change that brings about transparency as well because it's public interest reporting in large part. And so I think there are solutions that technology can support right there, little things that sites can do many sites already do it. Dame is small. So we don't often have the opportunity to do some of those things on the fly. But I also think that there, there are some bad habits that the Beltway press has, right? And we know them. We can, we complain about them. Both side is forced neutrality and objectivity. And we live in an era with those things that may be 50 years ago worked. They don't so much anymore in the absence of a fairness doctrine. And the reality is that journalism is not AI. There is a person who writes every story and to one, you know, assume or demand that there is not some kind of biases to fool ourselves in some part, all of us readers and, and outlets. And so I think there's a little bit of growing up that the established sort of benchmark media needs to do in terms of the way that they handle headlines, the way that they tap dance around certain words like why you know, we've spent three and a half years watching the biggest newspapers in the country avoid the word lie.

When, when everyone knows that it's a law, and these are, these are habits that wall, they may have served a purpose in the past. I think it's time to dispense with some of this stuff, but, but that's, you know, that's me small publisher who could make change quickly. Right? I don't have a board of directors. I don't have shareholders. I don't have stock. I'm not on the, we're not a publicly traded company. And so we have a lot of control and we also don't position as a breaking news outlet, right. We're, we're for all intents and purposes and editorial site with long form reporting. So we can take a position, we can take a saw and we don't shy away from it. And I think that's, you know, in part our special sauce,

Passionistas: And there's no umbrella organization saying these are the rules of being a journalist of being a media outlet. Right? So how does that change?

Jennifer:  And we don't really want that, right?

Passionstas: Right.

Jennifer:  You know, there's lots of discussion that goes on, you know, should, should, should all media be publicly funded, right? You hear these conversations should the government funded. So when you don't have, uh, you know, uh, uh, there are plenty of bodies that, that work to unify standards of course. Right. And there are tons of nonprofit organizations that are supportive of, of different, of different media outlets. Uh, but you're right. There is no overarching, this is the way this industry is supposed to, you know, that's why I brought up the fairness doctrine. And so, yeah, and it's also democratized. I mean, I'm not young, right? And so I came up a Vinny long before there was the internet and long before, you know, publishing was print or a newspaper or union magazines and newspaper. And so, you know, anybody can say anything now on the internet and lots of people who are not media or journalists, or refer to themselves as that.

 

And, and you run into a slippery slope because who gets to say what you can't, you can't tell people they can't publish what they want to publish. Of course they can. The issue becomes who do you platform for me, that's the issue, right? For established media, whose voices are you platforming? So anybody can say anything on their own. I, I fully stand behind that. What I, what I don't stand behind is for those, you know, benchmark outlets to give voice and platform to everybody because not everybody deserves to be heard. They deserve to write what they want, but they don't deserve necessarily to be heard. And that can be controversial. I don't know, but that's my personal opinion.

Passionistas: You're listening to The Passionistas Project Podcast and our interview with Jennifer Reitman to subscribe to DAME visit DAMEmagazine.com. And while you're there, be sure to check out their comprehensive guide, to voting in all 50 States and the District of Columbia. You can see the voter registration deadlines for vote by mail and in person options, get details on early voting and requesting an absentee ballot, learn about your voting rights and get your polling location.

 

Now here's more of our interview with Jennifer.

Passionistas: You mentioned that 99.9% of the by-lines are by women and that women speak differently. So to you, what’s the voice of a DAME journalist and how has it,

Jennifer: There's actually a few things that are really consistent across the board without all of our contributors and writers. The first thing is they're unabashed, right? They are confirmed in their thoughts and not in, not in an obstinate way and not in a, a sort of defiantly ignorant way, but they are subject matter experts. Most of our writers are coming from a place of lived experience. And so the voice, one aspect of their voice is just this, this core authenticity. They know what they speak of, and that, and that really does come through. I think the other thing that's been that I notice in all of our features, whether it's reported, whether it's a first person, op ed, is the thoughtfulness and the care in the voice and the approach to the topic that they're writing on, we inherently are so blessed that the people who write for us and agreed to write for us, or are just good, decent kind people.

And that, that part of them comes through in their voice. Without question. I think that the, the other thing that's consistent for us is there is, you know, a bit of provocative tour in, in almost everything we write. And I think in some ways you could attribute that to the subject matter, but I think it's also, you know, I think it's also who, who feels that we're the right platform for us consistently. Some of the feedback we get from writers is their appreciation of the freedom we give them to be themselves. And, and, you know, I look at that again is the authenticity, but it's also, we allow them to push their own personal boundaries in their writing, which in turn, our hope is that pushes the boundaries for anybody reading those features, because that's what we want to do. We want to, you know, we want to stimulate dialogue and in turn, hopefully change an action

Passionistas: In the last few years there have been several key turning points. It seems like in the women's movement on the, you know, the me too movement, the time's up movement, and even the women's March that started in 2017, have those things changed what you guys have been writing about as well?

Jennifer: I don't think it's changed. I think it's funny you point that out. I was going through for our newsletter today. I was pulling a selection of links of some of the most read pieces we've done on race. And it's interesting when it comes to sort of feminism, some of the stuff we've done on, on feminism, I see an evolution around that. Not necessarily on the site, but just out there, right. This sort of, you know, I think the acknowledgement that, that feminism for me, but not for me, has really impacted women of color and black women and, and the commodification of, of white feminism in so many ways and sort of the discounting of the true issues. But what I found slightly disheartening, frankly, is as I went through the archives, the same issues that we're talking about today in terms of, of equality and racial justice, we've been publishing forever and, and amongst many other outlets, right?

We're, we're certainly not, you know, exclusive in that category, but, but, you know, I was particularly struck reading some of them that I, there were several pieces that I realized that we could have published yesterday, literally. And they would have been as timely and as, as newsy as they were in 2014. And I think that that speaks volumes and not in a, not in a great way. And so I think that that what has changed is, you know, on the positive side is no shortage of things to talk about. Whereas we've been covering these topics for a long time, because this is what we do, but I look at it in context of some, you know, newer entrance into the, into the industry, or perhaps some outlets that have been around for a long time, I'm heartened by the fact that their pages include these topics.

Well, as well, because they're nobody shouldn't be considering publishing on all of this. Right? So the, you know, everyone needs to have social justice and center on their site, racial justice, front and center on their site or in their pages, paper pages. But I don't, I don't think we've evolved. I, I think we've done this for so long that that it's simply we've gone where the narrative goes. Right. And so if the, if the debate in 2015 was about, you know, is it finally time for a woman president the question today? You know, maybe why wasn't it. So it's, it's just, it's more about, um, how the, how our culture changes. And I think our editorial reflects that more than anything else.

Passionistas: What is DAME’s plan moving into this intensified election period? How do you guys handle election coverage?

Jennifer: It's interesting. There's a few things that we'll be launching that are, will be a little different for us. In fact, we're going to be launching a lot more coverage of disinformation and that's because I personally have such an incredible fear of the impact, you know, with the hindsight of 2016, I feel a responsibility to do a lot more coverage on what just info ops are out there to debunk it as much as possible, because that really is a service to the electorate, right? We, we have to inform, we've always done a ton of election coverage, right? We, we, you know, we did ongoing series leading up to 2060, obviously in 2016, we did a ton, but, but leading up to the 2018, we covered all of the congressional women candidates running, leading up to the presidential primary. We had a series running on all of the, a weekly series on all the women candidates running for president.

And so we'll, we'll stay there in terms of Senate races. Now we've moved onto the Senate races. So I don't think we'll change much of our election coverage in terms of actual races. That is not our core expertise. We're not DC beltway reporters in that way. We'll probably stick with what we're best at, which are the issues that are relevant to any race. So we've got a lot more disinfect work to do, and we'll probably do far more explainers around the core issues that will be on the ballot, basically what we're voting for when we vote in 2016, not so much about the candidacy, but, but more about, you know, all of the things that go into the federal government. We did a piece that was sort of overarching, right? What we're voting for in that way, but we'll drill down into each of those issues like the judiciary or, or the, you know, federal agencies. So I think those will be two, two big things that we'll focus on is leading it.

Passionistas: As we are recording this. Now the country is seeing an uprising like we haven't seen in decades, and there's a lot of protesting around the horrible death of George Floyd. And in fact, DAME magazine sent out an email this morning about elevating the Black voice. So what kind of steps are you taking in that regard?

Jennifer: Well, we've always taken that step. I have to say that, that we're very conscious as a white owned, uh, I'm white and I endeavor whenever possible to be publishing black women, but we need to do more, you know, we need to do more and I need to spend some time making sure that there's parody within our own digital pages. I think one of the things that I've consciously tried to make an effort around is to not relegate our black journalists, to just writing about race, right. That, you know, I want black women to be writing on the economy and on, you know, technology and cultural issues. To me that that's one of the best things I can do to continue to expand outside of, of sort of saying, well, the only thing you can write about, and we do that in all of our categories, frankly, but, but I think it's essential for me to, to every single day be conscious about that. That for every story we assign that I really am not just talking the talk and making sure that that if there is, is a black writer who, who is an expert in tech or an expert in, in economic issues or the law that, that we're publishing that voice, it's essential, but, but we've published, you know, so much over the years. And I think I'm, I'm proud of the work we done. I just know that we can do better because everybody can do better. I don't care what business you're in beyond amazing diverse voices.

Passionistas: What's your overall vision for DAME in the years ahead?

Jennifer: Stay in business in a, in a crazy media world. You know, it's funny, people always ask me, like, they asked me this question and consistently, and as much as I joke, stay in business, it really is stay in business. And I don't mean that from a sort of like, Oh, you know, the industry is, is, is embattled. And it's so hard to keep publishing. I made it in the context of women only own 11% of all media. And as I see many outlets that are either owned or run by women fall by the wayside and go out of business. I, I worry about that. I feel, I feel a deep responsibility to keep going every single day. And, and so my vision is to, you know, is to keep doing what we do to try to do it better every day than we did the day before, to always ensure that if our mission is to elevate and amplify marginalized voices, that I, that I remind myself to do that.

And that as stories come in, that the language we use is careful and considered for, for all groups. But I don't have ambitions to be, you know, some trillion dollar media company. That's not my goal. My goal is to, is for us to, you know, survive and thrive, but in a meaningful way, big isn't always better. And, you know, being a little bit ears to the ground and, and, and boots on the ground, I think affords us a, an intimacy with our readers that a lot of other outlets don't have. So, so my vision is to, is to keep us going, to keep us going in a direction that improves the work that we do every day and in turn, hopefully improves our reader's lives.

Passionistas: Thanks for listening to The Passionistas Project Podcast and our interview with Jennifer Reitman. To subscribe to DAME magazine and get lots of voting information for your state visit DAMEmagazine.com.

We're currently taking orders for the fall Passionistas Project Pack subscription box. Our theme, this quarter is Passionistas Persist, and the box is full of products from women-­owned businesses. We hope these items inspire you to stand in your power verse at the top of your lungs, take care of yourself and remember to laugh because without joy, what's it all for. If we support one another and stay persistent, great things will happen. You can find out how to subscribe to the box at the ThePassionistasProject.com.

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