The founder of Jezebel on the shutdown of the online publication
JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:
Sex, celebrity, politics with teeth - that was how the feminist website Jezebel defined itself. And after 16 years, Jezebel shut down last week. Its parent company, GeoMedia, said it was restructuring to cope with economic headwinds and a difficult digital advertising environment. Jezebel was a pioneer, publishing pieces about issues of gender and power before they were on the forefront of the digital media landscape. Anna Holmes created the website back in 2007 and joins me now. Hi, Anna.
ANNA HOLMES: Hi.
SUMMERS: Let me just start by asking, what has the last week been like for you after the news that Jezebel shut down?
HOLMES: You know, I felt a little shocked at first, but I didn't feel really horrible about it because I kept looking at it through the lens of other media. In fact, when I started the site, I wasn't sure whether it would be successful at all.
HOLMES: So 16 years feels like a good run. I'm sad about the people who lost their jobs - there was a fair number of them. But as one person put it, perhaps Jezebel was a victim of its own success. A lot of the subjects and the tone embedded themselves into the DNA of more traditional or mainstream publications. A lot of the alumni of the site now work at those publications. So it's not that it didn't have an effect on the larger culture, it's just that perhaps it was time for it to...
SUMMERS: I want to go back to those early days when you were first hired and creating this blog. At that point, there was really nothing else like it in the media landscape. What was your vision for what ultimately became Jezebel?
HOLMES: Well, there was my vision, and then there was the vision of the company that hired me's (ph) owner, Nick Denton. He wanted a women's website that would, you know, have a scrappy attitude. What I don't think Nick realized was the way in which we were going to be explicitly political. And by political, I mean not just around, let's say, electoral politics, but gender politics and around racial politics. I felt very strongly that it was something that we had to lean into, especially because of my experience working at women's magazines in the years preceding the creation of Jezebel. And I had found those women's magazines to be incredibly one-note, heteronormative. They were very white. The magazines didn't reflect the full range of interests of young women. I was particularly irritated by the ways in which we collectively were teaching young women who they were and how to be.
SUMMERS: I mean, in many ways, I am a person who really grew up with Jezebel. I think I was a freshman in college when the site launched. And as somebody who knew early on that they wanted to become a journalist or a writer, it was a site that I knew I always had to read, for all of the reasons that we've been talking about - the themes, the fact that it was irreverent and smart and funny but felt really relevant to my life. And I know that I'm not alone after seeing all of the tributes that have poured out in recent days and the amount of affection that I felt and still feel for Jezebel. But I want to ask you, how would you describe what Jezebel meant and means to you now?
HOLMES: Oh, to me?
HOLMES: Well, it was meaningful to me because it was an expression of my own feminism and my own frustration around the ways in which young women especially felt reluctant to identify as feminists. I felt that they had been socialized to not do so, thinking that it was somehow a bad word. It was meaningful to me because it was the first time that I had ever done something for myself, which is to say that I had chosen a risky job. I felt that if I did the site in the ways that it needed to be done, that I was probably going to alienate a lot of people in the media, and I would never get a job again if it failed. So I was terrified of that. It was meaningful to me because I am a Black woman, and there were not a lot of depictions of Black women in women's media at the time.
I felt and still feel that Jezebel had an effect on the culture - and not just media and journalism, but on the wider culture. And so, again, for me, there's a certain bittersweetness, but also real joy and a sense of accomplishment. And I would hope that I'm speaking for the staff that was there at the time that I was running the site, for the staff and editors in chief who came after me. Again, I think that everyone has a lot to be proud of.
SUMMERS: Anna Holmes is the founder of Jezebel. Anna, thank you.
HOLMES: Thank you so much.
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