Journalist Jessica Grose, writing in The New Republic, notes how infrequently women's magazines receive plaudits from the American Society of Magazine Editors' National Magazine Awards. Why, she wonders? Lack of meaty content? Snobbish dismissal of the magazines themselves? A separate and not equal notion of journalism for female audiences?
The late, great Ruth Whitney, editor of Glamour from 1967-1998, made a point of publishing brain food between the beauty tips. Under her leadership, Glamour won four National Magazine Awards. (It has continued to excel, named magazine of the year in 2010.) It's fair to say, though, that some of the journalistic heft in women's magazines began to fade as they became more tied to niches in which they delivered specific reader demographics to advertisers, and their "general-interest" material became, well, less general. Fiction has all but disappeared.
Elle editor in chief Robbie Myers weighed in on the debate, taking on directly the comment to Grose by ASME head Sid Holt, who said "serious journalism" is not the mission of women's magazines. Myers described Elle's longtime publishing of in-depth pieces, citing an important one on politics and culture (a profile of then-Senator Barack Obama written by a writer who accompanied him to Kenya) and issues such as the rise in selective reduction in pregnancies of twins. Not exactly journalism lite.
Grose discusses the resistance of some female writers to write for women's magazines, concerned about being ghettoized and less marketable to titles with large male audiences. Not a helpful attitude, perhaps, but one can't blame writers for seeking what they believe is the best environment for showcasing their work.
So let's see what the editors of women's magazines do in response to this conversation. More brain food would certainly be welcome.