How a New Publication Is Trying to Redefine the Establishment

By Jillian Richardson December 3rd, 2015

The media industry has always been dominated by men. Just this year, the Women’s Media Center found that women make up only 36.1 percent of bylines in print, digital, broadcast, and wire news. In the same study, it was reported that newsroom staffs are only 37.2 percent female. Even worse, this stat has barely changed since 1999.

Why? As Taylor Lorenz, a social media strategist and editor, explains in a piece on Matter, “Women are not encouraged as much to get into hard news.” Instead, they often work in the so-called “pink ghetto” of the media industry: social media, press relations, and traditionally feminine verticals. Gawker Media’s editorial staff, for example, is 61 percent male and 31 percent female. Yet, as this piece from Dayna Evens on Medium notes, this split would be even bigger if Gawker’s almost exclusively female-run site, Jezebel, were taken out of the equation.

In response to this underrepresentation, there has been a major push lately to create female-focused, female-run publications.

Lena Dunham and her Girls showrunner Jenni Konner recently created Lenny, an email newsletter. Dunham describes the goal of the project in Fast Company as “acting as a big sister to young radical women on the Internet.” Broadly, a site under Vice‘s umbrella, highlights issues that are important to women through original reporting and documentary film. Jezebel covers women’s interest stories from reproductive rights to opinion pieces about Miley Cyrus’s nudity. On the print side, BUST magazine covers a “variety of young women’s interests, including celebrity interviews, music, fashion, art, crafting, sex, and news.”

Now, there’s one more publication to add to the ever-growing list of female-centric publications: The Establishment. The project—co-founded by Katie Tandy, Nikki Gloudeman, and Kelley Calkins—has its bar set a little higher. The women behind The Establishment aim to be more than a singular website, magazine, or newsletter—they want a multimedia empire created and funded for women, by women.

Shauna Stark, a former Intel executive, funded The Establishment with $1 million of her own money, according to a recent profile in the Columbia Journalism Review. This was one of the biggest angel investments ever by a female venture capitalist into a “women-led, women-focused publication.” In fact, it’s rare for female-founded startups to get funding from venture capitalists at all. According to a 2013 Silicon Valley Business Journal article, only 13 percent of startups created by women get funding from VCs.

Stark invested so heavily in the project because she feels that women don’t have a level playing field in tech and media. “I found a lot of the places I worked to be inhospitable to women, unwelcoming,” she said.

With Stark’s investment in place, The Establishment wants to start changing the gender imbalance in digital media—and give female-centric businesses a more prominent spot in the news landscape in the process.

A new type of female website

It’s easy to question why there needs to be another publication that focuses on stories and news from a female perspective. If Broadly, Lenny, and a host of other sites exist, what’s the point? Can The Establishment create a unique niche in the media landscape?

Founder Kelley Calkins isn’t worried. “There’s a reason more and more outlets are focusing on women—men have dominated the media landscape for too long,” she said. “There’s a thirst for content created outside of that paradigm.”

So far, the website—which launched October 26—features a variety of content, including photo essays, video profiles, reviews in doodle, vintage videos, and podcast episodes with themes like “The Worst Night Ever.”

This community will exist beyond The Establishment website as well. Content-sharing partnerships have already been formed with other female-led media startups such as Dame and Bitch. The site will also be monetized through advertising, grants, sponsorships, and live events with other feminist media outlets.

“We hope to expand beyond the conventional parameters of a website by not only focusing on diverse multimedia content, but also by ultimately expanding into live events,” Jessica Sutherland, The Establishment’s marketing director, said. “As clichéd and sentimental as it may sound, we really do want to foster a community among our readers.”

Kelley Calkins, one of The Establishment’s co-founders and editors, has a few stories she has been particularly excited by, such as “A Deeper Dive Into the History of Medical Child Abuse,” “The Joys of Being a Flailing, Flappy-Handed Black Nerd,” “‘Jasmine Is My Street Name,'” and “The Dirty Politics of Period Sex.”

The founders clearly want to cover a wide variety of topics. Yet more specifically, they want to, as the old adage goes, give a voice to the voiceless.

“We’re a website, but also one of the few places out there where many individuals who’ve been marginalized in our society will finally and regularly see themselves reflected in the media,” Sutherland said. “These perspectives so often get drowned out in the mainstream, despite the fact that silencing these voices deprives us all of so much.”

Other female-centric websites have not shone as bright of a spotlight on underrepresented groups. Jezebel, for instance, doesn’t ignore these weighty topics—it recently published a piece about a woman in Kurdistan who volunteers with ISIS escapees—but a significant portion of its publishing output focuses on celebrity gossip, film and TV reviews, and fashion news.

Traditionally, “female-centric publication” has meant a focus on specific topics, rather than a focus on the female perspective. For The Establishment, the founders seem confident that their unique female-funding structure gives them the opportunity to change that paradigm.

“We’re not controlled by massive household brands and we’re not relying on celebrity culture to fuel interest in what we’re doing,” Sutherland said. “We’re not in anyone’s pocket.”

What freelancers need to know

The majority of today’s freelancers are already women—53 percent, to be exact. And many of these freelancers would love a platform to share their work for a fair wage.

According to Calkins, The Establishment is “committed to paying everyone fairly for their work.” Currently, the site offers $125 for features that are around 800 to 1,000 words, and $500 for longform reported pieces of around 3,000 words.

The demand for writers is consistent, since The Establishment publishes three to five pieces a day. The bulk of stories have been written by freelancers so far, although the site’s co-founders also contribute content. In addition, men are welcome to pitch; many male writers have already been published on the site.

Compensation for multimedia projects, such as videos, photos, podcasts, or other visual content, is determined on a case-by-case basis. The Establishment’s editors also say that they will tell writers when they’re not going to accept their pitch, rather than leave them hanging.

Flattening the hierarchy

As with anything that relates to gender, The Establishment was bound to receive some criticism.

“By creating a women-only focus, there is the danger that the stereotype of women being some how disadvantaged in business is reinforced. If we want to see true equality and acceptance of both genders in the business communities, then we should seek more of an effort to be all inclusive, not more separative,” Leon Jay, a business speaker and founder of FusionHQ, said.

Some criticize female-focused sites for misrepresenting feminism and exploiting emotionally charged topics for traffic. Last year, Kyria Abrahams from Thought Catalog expressed her frustrations: “These days, feminism is more about hurt feelings and trigger warnings, blogs about rape jokes, ironic racism, and fat shaming. It used to be about the pill and the right to be a female priest. Now it’s about outrage and clickbait.”

When Calkins was asked about the critiques targeted at The Establishment and other female-focused publications, she said: “Unfortunately, people tend to think women only care about makeup, abortions, and the patriarchy. Here at The Establishment, we do care about those things, but that’s far from all that matters to us. We’re not interested in inverting the hierarchy, we’re interested in flattening it. All issues are women’s issues.”

Image by Laurin Rinder
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