Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Why Magazine Covers Can Still Knock Our Socks Off

Jill Filipovic, editor of the web site Feministe, has written a persuasive piece about why print magazine covers still grab us, even in this age of images flashing by online at dizzying speeds.  Is it the cover lines that tease?  The sleek models (think GQ), the "beautiful people" (Vogue), the edgy, quirky but always relevant (Rolling Stone)?  The shiny paper and lush inks?

Filipovic reminds of the covers that were cultural earthquakes: "Two decades ago, newsstands across the country wrapped Vanity Fair in paper to conceal a pregnant and nude Demi Moore. Mention the imminently talented Janet Jackson, and you’re likely to evoke three major cultural reference points: Miss Janet (if you’re nasty), wardrobe malfunction, and that Rolling Stone cover turned album art of Jackson in those high-rise, stone-washed jeans, arms up, with man-hands covering her bare breasts. John Lennon wrapped around Yoko Ono, also for Rolling Stone, is the iconic image of that relationship. Even National Lampoon’s 1973 “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill This Dog” bit triggered an immediate, emotive response—and remains a cultural touch point more than 40 years later."

Even with print publications in a seeming irreversible slump, their covers still make news.  And magazine cover opportunities are still coveted by public figures with an image to protect and burnish.  No matter how many Twitter followers you have, you aren't going to turn down Rolling Stone (ask Julia Louis-Dreyfus) or Vogue (probably the toniest magazine real estate Kim and Kanye have ever had!)

Even though we spend hours online sifting through news and images, millions still look forward to Time Magazine's "Person of the Year" cover (most recently Pope Francis, and still mostly men, in spite of Time's change from "Man of the Year" to "Person of the Year" in 1999).  Few who lived through the Afghanistan war era will forget photographer Steve McCurry haunting photo of the penetrating eyes of a 12-year-old refugee girl, Sharbat Gula, in a refugee camp on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, published as a National Geographic cover. 

There are lists and lists of favorites, compiled by sources from the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) to Mashable.  McCurry's National Geographic cover is Mashable's No. 1 pick; the Lennon-Ono photo is ASME's. A look through the cover images in these lists are good reminders of how compelling these covers can be, and how much emotion and commentary they contain.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Women Remain A Large Minority In All News Platforms

Women are outnumbered by men in the news industry — in television, newspapers, online and wires -- according to new research from The Women’s Media Center.

The research found that 63.4 percent of those with bylines or on-camera appearances as anchors or reporters were men, while women were 36.1 percent.

The Women’s Media Center’s research examined 20 of the most widely circulated, read, viewed and listened to U.S. based TV networks, newspapers, news wires and online news sites. The research findings tell a stark story about where women stand across every platform in the 24/7 news cycle.

Some news organizations have made more strides in achieving gender parity, according to the research.

“There are, most certainly, a handful of notable exceptions to the trend of men dominating media and it is important to note that a woman in the anchor seat is more than a symbol; she sends a message to viewers that women can lead a network broadcast — and that matters,” said Julie Burton, president of the Women’s Media Center. “Overall, this research is about much more than just one woman in an anchor seat, it is about making sure that who defines the story, who tells the story, and what the story is about, represents women and men equally. Women are more than half of the population, but we don’t see or hear them in equal numbers to men.  It is our hope – and our work – to see those numbers reach parity.”

Female journalists were more likely to report on lifestyle, culture and health while men were more likely to cover politics, criminal justice or technology, according to the research.

The Women’s Media Center commissioned Global News Intelligence (GNI) researchers to analyze 27,000 pieces of content from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, 2013. The survey focused on the gender breakdown of full-time newsroom staffers, paid freelance journalists and non-paid content contributors from the following news organizations: The evening news broadcasts for ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS; Chicago Sun-Times, The Denver Post, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, San Jose Mercury News, USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, New York Daily News, New York Post, The Associated Press, Reuters, CNN.com, Daily Beast, FOXNews.com and The Huffington Post.

You can see an at-a-glance infographic of the numbers disparity here.

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Personal Public Liberation: News Anchor Removes Her Wig on the Air

Broadcast news is loaded with glamor.  Anchors and on-air talent are relentlessly sized up for their audience appeal.  It's a high-wire act, especially for women, who are typically judged harshly on their looks -- by other women as well as men. Once the red light on the camera goes on, they're working without a net.

Memphis anchor Pam McKelvy decided enough was enough.  She had gone through dozens of styles, with wigs and her own hair, as female news anchors do to stay current with fashion trends.  Breast cancer treatment took her hair, so the wigs went on and stayed -- until a week and a half ago.

McKelvy is a news anchor at WMC-TV5 in Memphis.  Like many of the news anchors who make the "hottest women TV anchors" lists that have sprouted up all over the Internet, McKelvy is a former beauty queen.  She was Miss Kansas in 1992 and a runner-up in the Miss America pageant.  She's been in news broadcasting for 15 years.

Narrating a feature piece about women and hair, folding her own story into it, McKelvy describes the pressures on women in public life, particularly the ongoing critique about their appearances.  Overlaid with sexism is racism and, particularly for women in television, ageism.  She speaks without bitterness about chemo's effects, her embrace of her natural hair, and her gratitude for being alive. 

It was a bold gesture from a brave heart.  Watch it here.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

VIDA 2013 Byline Count Released: No Champagne Called For

There is no end of clich├ęs about truth-telling, i.e.,  "Numbers don't lie" and "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not to his own facts."  The latter one is from the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and while I wish he had made his comment gender-neutral, I can't complain about its essential truth.

So the numbers and the facts about women's bylines compiled annually by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts tell us, once again, that "women’s writing continues to be disproportionately omitted from the pages of career-making journals," according to Amy King, a Nassau (NY) Community College faculty member who wrote this year's VIDA byline report.  While the facts that show women are underutilized as journalists, literary authors, and literary reviewers may be resisted by editors who are blocking their way, the facts are the facts.

The 2013 VIDA count shows marked improvement at The Paris Review and The New York Times Book Review -- truly bright spots in the literary pantheon, along with small press publishers. But there's little movement elsewhere.  The New Republic had its worst performance ever in the 2013 VIDA count.

The facts will continue to be collected and the numbers compiled. "In a country where many major newspapers and journals are owned by the few, where great swaths of 51% of the population are excluded by historical practices that continue to be handed down and enacted by heads of magazines, VIDA hopes to upset traditions that leave women writers out of editors’ Rolodexes and off publishers’ forthcoming lists," King writes.  She encourages consumer pushback -- letters to editors with praise for being inclusive and criticism for not, and subscription cancellations of periodicals that consistently show little interest in publishing women -- with an explanation of the reader's exit.

Read the full report and see pie charts of individual publications' 2013 performance here.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue Welcomes A Real Doll

The forthcoming Sports Illustrated annual swimsuit issue, on newsstands Feb. 18, celebrates its 50th anniversary with a lineup of previous swimsuit issue alumnae such as Christie Brinkley and Heidi Klum.  Joining them for the first time will be none other than Mattel's Barbie, in a marketing campaign that essentially flips the bird to those who've criticized the magazine for being a sexual come-on.

The Barbie #Unapologetic billboard
erected in Times Square.
Called "Unapologetic," the campaign's message as framed by the toymaker, is one of empowerment (that word again!), placing Barbie in the pantheon of independent women "who have gone on to break boundaries, build empires, and shape culture.  Under constant criticism, posing in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit gives Barbie and her fellow legends an opportunity to celebrate who they are, what they have done, and being #unapologetic. An unexpected pairing and a multi-faceted partnership, Barbie and Sports Illustrated Swimsuit remind girls of all ages that anything is possible."

(After all this talk about sisterhood, they are being called fellow legends?)

All this is a prelude to the launch of the SI Swimsuit Barbie doll, coming to a store near you, following a "Barbie Beach House Party" in New York the night before the swimsuit issue is released for sale.

All the pink-tinged glamor aside, it's important to remember that Barbie's enduring popularity co-exists uncomfortably with an exaggerated anatomy that heightens her sexual features and contributes to an unrealistic "thin-ideal" imagery that isn't good for girls.

And it's unfortunate that Barbie, who's had dozens of careers and can make a legitimate claim to being a female action figure, has now thrown her lot in with the pinup set.


Mattel's Barbie and Lamm's vision of her
everyday counterpart.
If Barbie were more like the girls she's marketed to, she might look like this, as visualized by artist Nickolay Lamm -- a beautiful girl by any and all accounts.

“If Barbie looks good as an average woman and even there’s a small chance of Barbie influencing young girls, why can’t we come out with an average sized doll?” Lamm told TIME magazines in 2013. “Average is beautiful.”

Friday, January 31, 2014

Wiley to Women's Magazines: Thou Shalt Not Commit Cover Lines


The hilarious Non Sequitur comic strip, drawn by Wiley Miller and syndicated to 700 newspapers, offers brilliant commentary on the issues of the day, mixing witty observations about human nature and contemporary issues.  A favorite periodic feature of the strip is "Life Review in Session," in which a St. Peter-type character sits in front of a huge computer as heaven's inhabitants recount the follies of their earthly life.

 A strip published in newspapers this week tweaked women's magazines for their ubiquitous, and often ridiculous, cover line teasers.

NON SEQUITUR © Wiley Ink, Inc..  Dist. By UNIVERSAL UCLICK.  Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
That had to sting.  But the strip makes a point that the cover content of women's magazines, carried over to their web sites as well, reminds women that no matter how good they have it, there's always something about them and their lives that needs fixing.  For example:

 
From Seventeen:

 4 Leg Moves to Help You Tone Up Like Olympic Skater Gracie Gold

 
From Self:

 9 Moves to a Tighter Butt

 Slim Down in 14 Days

 Heat Up Cold Winter Nights With These 25 Date Ideas

 
From Glamour:

5 Low Carb Sandwiches that Still Taste Good

100 Amazing Outfits for Every Day

 
And from Cosmo:

8 Gorgeous Erotic Lesbian Line Drawings You'll Want to Print Out and Color Immediately

19 Times Chrissy Teigen Nailed Her Look

With all that listmaking, tip following, and idea implementing a reader would have to do, there'd be no time to do much else with her life, and no guarantee that the results would be what she hopes for.  With this tip mania, the magazines continue to promote an endless cycle of self-improvement, with a message that is subtly negative and potentially toxic to the self-esteem of women and girls who read them.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Where Are the Women? Press Club Panel Discusses How to Increase Sourcing, Commentary

The thorny and persistent problem of underrepresentation of women as news sources and sources of commentary received a thorough airing at the National Press Club Jan. 13.  A distinguished panel of journalists, ably moderated by Linda Kramer Jenning, Washington editor for Glamour magazine, discussed why this is and how it continues to bedevil editors, reporters and readers while also compromising the quality of journalism.

With poor gender balance, "You're not going to get the full range of opinions," said panelist Sally Buzbee, Washington bureau chief for the Associated Press. "I remember vividly during the Iraq war, the challenges of being able to talk to Iraqi women, and how one-sided that made much of our coverage."

But even without war and cultural barriers as explanations, women don't appear much in domestic news, either, as numerous content analyses have shown -- even when the subject matter directly affects them.

This panel discussion didn't offer a magic solution to how to solve the problem, but instead offered a spirited conversation about what is possible, what is being done, and how women can assert themselves as sources, reporters and commentators to occupy more of the real estate on news and editorial pages.  It's 107 minutes long and can be viewed here.