FEBRUARY 1, 2014
Online feminist journalism became blissfully in-person on Wednesday when three amazing guests came to speak at a symposium for the Poynter Fellowship in Journalism: Akiba Solomon of Colorlines, Lori Adelman of Feministing, and Sarah Mirk of Bitch Media. Inderpal Grewal, Chair of Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies, opened the forum by introducing the speakers. The panel was moderated by Broad Recognition’s Editor-in-Chief Isabel Ortiz; other Yale students who participated on the panel asking questions were Carol Crouch, Erin Maher, and Eliza Dryer.
Carol Crouch asked the first student question—whether the three panelists saw themselves as “online activists.” Adelman replied that she has often been asked whether she is more a journalist or an activist; by virtue of her day job as global communications and advocacy officer at Planned Parenthood, she feels she participates daily in an activist community. Mirk said that she is an activist through her journalism: “I use these skills… to tell humane and relevant stories.” She maintains activist relationships by calling out injustice when she encounters bigoted talk daily. Solomon contrasted somewhat from the others in identifying as a “journalist first and foremost” and reflected that in the process of her work she found herself in positions that force her to keep her politics to herself, for example while researching crisis pregnancy centers in Kansas City, Missouri: “I couldn’t be a feminist and report in that place.”
The panelists fell in differing sides of the online/print question of journalism. Continuing her response to Crouch’s question, Adelman marveled at the role of the internet in opening up opportunities for more voices in journalism: “Everyone is contributing in the way they feel most optimized to do so.” “Our brains can’t even process yet all these conversations we’re having.” Mirk defended the benefits of the quarterly print format that Bitch Magazine takes. Print, she argued, allows for a longer time to elapse so that writing can do media analysis and thoughtfully reflect on issues to cover them in ways that rapid news has missed.
The journalists said that navigating the comments section of online articles poses additional challenges. Solomon said that Colorlines has been forced to moderate each post because of the damaging comments that would otherwise follow articles: “There’s so much racism. I mean there’s so much racism.” On the other hand, she lauded the discussions and community that comes out of (moderated) comments sections, which Colorlines staff do not add to but can read: “We’ve gotten ideas for articles based on what they say.” Mirk said that Bitch’s Facebook posts often get nasty comments, but the comments will frequently be followed by “ten people calling them out.” These circumstances can serve as vital learning moments for readers.
Eliza Dryer asked what the panelists believed to be the role of pop culture analysis in online journalism. All three speakers defended the coverage of pop culture alongside other issues. “Coming from a pop culture background is a great equalizer,” Solomon said. Mirk agreed that popular forms of media can be a way for people to begin to think about gender and race: “When you don’t yet think about systemic inequity, but you see that on TV shows it’s almost all white characters, and mostly men, you can begin to think, ‘That’s kinda weird.’” Solomon added that feminist journalists often write about pop culture for financial reasons: “A lot of feminist reporting labor is unpaid labor.” Some stories, even important stories that a journalist cares about, are impossible to take on without a paying job. “To write about SNAP cuts, for example, is more time-consuming and expensive than pop culture.”
The panelists did express having previously had ambivalent attitudes toward being “feminist” with all its (white) racialized connotations; and are now embracing intersectional feminism. Adelman reflected that as a college student she had not been interested in feminist issues, but rather had focused on activism in the black community. Solomon said that early in her career as a journalist she did not self-identify either, but because of the kind of writing she did, which foregrounded issues of gender, “People kept telling me I was a feminist.” Later, both expressed understanding when a student stood up to admit that she had felt excluded in feminism until reading Jamilah Lemieux’s defense of Questlove’s personal essay in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case. The student later began following #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, and the Twitter conversation affirmed her feelings that the most visible feminism addresses white women’s issues only. “I think there are fissures definitely,” Solomon agreed. But she had come to embrace the antisexist movement, if it is inclusive: “It’s important to remember the principles of feminism.” Adelman agreed, and brought up the issue of self-identification as feminist. Unlike some loud voices in feminist media, she does not condemn people doing great activist work who don’t call themselves feminist. Given the often-exclusionary history of feminism, she understands when people shy away from the term and sees no need to force it. However, she is excited for and proud of the work being done at Feministing. Describing it as a website started by white feminists, and considered part of the mainstream, she says it now features a majority people of color voices.
Isabel Ortiz asked the panelists about “calling in,” a concept featured in two recent pieces in Black Girl Dangerous and Feministing.The writers, Ngọc Loan Trần and Verónica Bayetti Flores respectively, report having observed a practice in the feminist movement wherein figures are villainized for having said something wrongheaded; the writers urge instead that feminists point out the mistake, but then forgive and work for betterment. “I love that piece,” Adelman replied, regarding the Feministing coverage. “We love Verónica’s writing and want to be supportive of her.” She then disclosed that it had gone through several rounds of editing, and was held off being published, because the editors feared for the writer’s emotional safety. Such a topic has in different iterations been subject to a high volume of negative response on Twitter and elsewhere. In the end, Bayetti Flores’s piece was published and has received very positive feedback. Mirk responded to the importance of heeding “call-ins”: “I make mistakes all the time.” She explains, “because I’m white and grew up middle-class,” they will often be on the basis of issues she had not been aware of or considered fully. At the times that they are brought to her attention, she emphasizes having the radical humility to say, “‘Yeah. You’re right. I should’ve caught that. I’m sorry.’” Such moments need not dissuade an activist from their work pursuing equality, but rather to keep trying.
The financial and class implications of participating in online journalism were discussed in greater detail throughout the discussion. One student asked if the panelists had any advice, because she was scared as she began freelancing. Solomon replied, “I don’t want to say don’t quit your day job, because of the negative connotations of that statement—but I do want to say don’t quit your day job.” She advised, for self-care, choosing work that allows both financial freedom and time to pursue writing.
Regarding class and the online feminist conversation, all three panelists replied to a question that there remain voices unheard in the movement. Mirk identified people who don’t use technology and social media, such as older people. Adelman added, “working-class people,” to which Solomon added, “people who don’t have access to high speed internet,” “poor people.” Adelman says the movement lacks writers who from their own experience can give antipoverty, anticapitalist analyses. “We want to incorporate the kinds of voices who can’t afford to write for free.”
A. Grace Steig is a junior in Yale College. She is an associate editor for Broad Recognition.