apps, tech + online

design online: a response to the ny times story on online magazines

by Grace Bonney

Earlier today Aaron came into the living room and said “Hey, did you read that article in the Times about Lonny and Rue and online magazines?”. I flicked open a new tab in my browser and immediately went to check it out. I’m not sure what I expected, or why I was surprised, but it was not the story I expected to read. To be honest I expected a glowing review of all online pubs as the next wave of design and a snarky declaration that blogs were becoming irrelevant. Sort of an “All hail online magazines! The future is here!” piece. To both my pleasure and displeasure that was not the case. But what was written was both spot on and disappointing in countless ways. Other than my once-in-a-blue-moon ICFF rant, I can’t remember a time I was more compelled to respond publicly in such an immediate way.

I want to start first and foremost by saying that Tina Fey’s book, Bossypants, really influenced what I’m about to write. The book’s biggest takeaway message for me was that women need to stop seeing each other as competing for the same few spaces. She didn’t say that women shouldn’t compete, but rather that we have control over how we treat each other within our industry. This online design community is full of women and sadly that sometimes means it’s full of cattiness and gossip. I got caught up in it the first few years of blogging and regret nothing more than allowing that behavior to play any role in my life. I learned my lesson early on and have since learned not to discuss anyone or anything behind their back and to try harder to understand that different people (bloggers and readers) want different things and there’s plenty of room for everyone to co-exist without having to tear someone else down to get there. So for me, one of the most fundamental flaws in the article was framing the discussion as a competition where only one person/magazine would really win. To focus so much on the competition felt out of touch and off focus when there could have been a real discussion here about the future of what we now think of as “magazines” and what role these early web versions play in that movement.

This is going to be a long response (3,300+ words) because this is a topic I’ve been wanting to talk about for a while now, so I hope you’ll join me after the jump below and contribute your own thoughts on the subject. –Grace

Having now read through the full article three times (you can read the article here if you have not already), I feel like my concerns break down into the following core issues:

  • The article seems to have a fundamental misunderstanding about the way web readerships and publications work
  • Traditional media continues to find a way to marginalize the web as a valid source of quality content
  • Online magazines are struggling to find unique voices and the Times accurately (although with a tone that leaves much to be desired) describes their major problems
  • Articles like this are a reminder that we, as readers and producers of online content, have to work harder to be taken seriously.
  • Younger women, as content producers and business owners, need to take greater control over how we are presented and how we present ourselves

I want to break down these points because I think they’re incredibly important to discuss at this stage of our existence as members of the online design community.

The article seems to have a fundamental misunderstanding about the way the web and web readerships and publications work

One of the most disheartening things I learned while working for traditional print magazines was how often they’re pitted against one another. When I was at House & Garden we were constantly being compared to, and threatened with the success of, sister publications at the same publishing house. I kept being so surprised that we weren’t seeing other publications as representing different facets of the same community, rather than people we had to push off the podium in order to get a place. I cannot speak to the history of print publishing, having only worked as a contributing editor for four years, but I can speak to the current state of the web industry, and the message is clear: there are enough advertisers, readers and content producers that the old model of “only the top 5 survive” is no longer accurate.

It seems to me like traditional media is laboring under the misconception that people only read one magazine or blog. So often articles are framed in a way that puts blogs or online magazines at odds with each other to see which one will win. But the reality is, there’s plenty of room online for great content. And when it’s (at least for now) free people will read as much as they want, as long as it’s interesting. They don’t have to choose which magazine to read because they only want to pay for one or two- they can easily add 5 or 50 new free blogs/online magazines to their reader and support them all.

It’s irrelevant to keep pushing this idea that only a handful will make it, because that’s not the real story. The story is that there’s a huge change taking place in publishing and these people are part of it. I would have liked to see more emphasis on examining the quality of the publications and what they’ve done correctly rather than the petty sounding pull-quotes about an interest in fame versus decorating.

Traditional media continues to disregard the web as a valid source of quality content

As much as I agreed with some of the more critical points in this article, I felt a kinship with these content producers because we’ve all been thrown under the traditional media microscope and quickly written off as somehow less than valid, important, intelligent and experienced. Yes, most of us lack traditional print experience (I know I would have given anything to keep working in print for a few more years to learn valuable skills) but what we have been able to achieve online deserves a level of respect I feel most of us aren’t given. I can’t begin to tell you how often I (and Design*Sponge) continue to be written off, eye-rolled over, or rudely laughed at as being a “little craft blog” or any other variation of that phrase. While this particular article didn’t go quite that far in terms of obvious disrespect, the underlying tone felt much more akin to an older brother talking down to (and sometimes laughing at) their kid sister than a professional analysis of a valid online movement.

While these online publications hold a lot of responsibility for their own public image, I think traditional media has had plenty of time to write bloggers and online media off as some sort of disparate group of yappy girls who talk and don’t say anything important. As a community we represent a staggering amount of people, influence and change and I’m tired of people not taking those of us who take our work seriously as legitimate members of the media community.

Online magazines are struggling to find unique voices and the Times accurately (although with a tone that leaves much to be desired) describes their major problems

This next point is tougher to write, because I’ve worked really hard not to critique other content producers. Namely because I know they’re still growing and changing and because it’s so often misunderstood as cattiness or jealousy. But as someone who’s been absorbing an awful lot of it over the past few days I feel like voicing an opinion, in a constructive manner, is an important way to get a discussion happening. The more we avoid talking about issues in our community the more they become gossip, whispers and talking behind each other’s backs- and the more we miss out on opportunities to make us stronger and better. In the current media climate where online publishers are routinely written off for their lack of professionalism, there are clear ways we can work to prevent that.

My primary issues with these online magazines were summed up well in the article and I’ve expanded on them here:

*Some of these online magazines are strikingly similar to print publications

As a former Domino contributor, I was initially uneasy with how similar many of these publications were to my former employer. I know so many people miss Domino, but those column ideas and styles were created by real people who still live and work in NYC. I would love to see people actually hire those writers and have them continue those ideas online rather than redo them in the same style (often in the exact same layout) by someone else. If that’s not an option the alternative is to speak to the new writer’s specific style and taste. There has to be a way to make your own voice unique, and if you can’t find one, than a larger-scale online publication may not be the best fit.

*They often overlap homes, interviews and features

The Times accurately pointed out that these publications share homes, ideas and interviews often within a few weeks or a month of each other, which leads me to wonder why no one is asking for exclusivity from their subjects? This was one of the biggest aspects of magazine publishing I brought back with me to D*S- asking people to wait to share something with another large publication until we’d published or had some time to let that article breath.

This is an issue in the blog world, too, but primarily because things spread so quickly online that you can’t stop every blog from re-posting something. That said, there are only a small handful of online magazines right now, so ensuring exclusivity, or at least a different spin on the same article, shouldn’t be impossible yet.

*There is a distinct lack of editing happening, despite titles like “Editor in Chief” being used.

This is my biggest issue with online magazines, period. I can’t stress it enough. If you want to have the cachet that comes with being a “magazine editor”, you need to be an editor. I don’t feel that editing from 200 photos down to 60 is enough editing. If a story spans 40 pages and includes variations on the same image over and over, there’s more room to edit. Magazines are about projecting a level of quality, care and thought that comes from producing less content, less often. I think this really is the key to these online magazines being successful in the long term. If they can learn to truly edit (and perhaps come up with exciting web extras based on their outtakes and extra shots) they will start to live up to what I think most people expect from a “magazine”. Until then, I feel strongly that 3/4 of them would benefit from turning their content into a really excellent blog.

I know “everyone and their mother has a blog” now, but blogs (in all genres) are still producing some of the most well written and edited content online. I know it’s easy to be lured in by the idea of being a “magazine” editor, versus a regular old blogger, but the bottom line is this: If you produce high quality content, it doesn’t matter what title you put on it. Good content is good content.

*There feels like a focus on packaging and marketing over content

This issue was what put me off of a few online magazines before they’d even launched: hype that felt so incredibly aggressive and self-promotional that I couldn’t see through to the content. All great publications thrive on great content. Yes, marketing is an important part of getting the word out, but if you don’t have the well-edited, high quality content inside the pages to back it up, it starts to feel like hype for the sake of hype. I dealt with this issue a lot when I was doing blog and business consulting last fall. People wanted a shortcut to the success that comes with hard work without doing the hard work. But the truth is that loyal readers and staying power have more to do with dedicating yourself to content and a supportive team than banners, buttons and parties.

*Internet “fame” is tempting but fleeting

The hype issue above plays into something that Michelle from Lonny mentioned in the article about people wanting to be “famous” via online magazine success. (It killed me to read that pull quote from her about being it for for fame vs. decorating. I know how things can be said off hand when you feel comfortable with a reporter, but that one was painful to read. It’s a good lesson in never ever feeling so comfortable with a reporter that you let sarcasm in. It always gets edited and printed as cattiness)

“Fame” is entirely relative to the time and place you’re in, but I can speak from experience when I say that there’s always going to be someone newer, cooler and younger to replace whatever “fame” you’ve built up in the short run. And no decision to put fame or success above your friends, colleagues and content will ever pay out in the long run. What lasts is quality content, a readership that believes you’re in this because you love what you do, and the friends and colleagues who respect the work you’re doing.

*Younger women, as content producers and business owners, need to take greater control over how we are presented and how we present ourselves

One of the reasons I started the Biz Ladies series was because I was shocked as how poorly I was treated as a young woman running a business and by how little many of us knew about being business and media savvy. And this article was a perfect example. So many of the lines that these women gave sounded incredibly snarky, rude or conceited that my initial reaction was, “Oh no, they probably just said these in an off the cuff and slightly sarcastic way”. It was hard to read. Did they mean those flip remarks with malice? Possibly. But I really don’t think they were thinking about it that way when they were talking. I’ve met just about all of these women before and the vast majority of them are friendly and genuine.

It can be obnoxious to constantly be compared to someone else in your field, especially if you see what you do as so much different to them. And that frustration came through in Michelle’s pull-quotes. But I had a hard time reading them and not thinking “Nooo, don’t say these things to a reporter!”

I’ve had my words twisted and used out of context in interviews so often that I finally sat down and made a list of things I wouldn’t discuss in interviews or reminders of interviewers I couldn’t trust. So often the writer will seem friendly in person but will end up looking for the most exciting, juicy story possible. And if you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile. So these small comments, which may or may not have been meant with ulterior motives, helped the writer craft a story that turned a group of bright, talented women into something that felt more like catty reality show personalities.

This is especially difficult as women, because it seems as though so many male writers feel the need to frame women (especially those at the top of their field) in this way. Is it frustrating? Yes. But I feel strongly that there are things women can to do educate themselves and prevent situations like this from happening.

I’ve been struggling with this issue myself lately as I work on larger projects that involve people need to sort of “package” me as a brand (which is incredibly uncomfortable) and decide what image goes best with that. It lead to me feeling really angry and frustrated and I found myself returning to books about the Riot Grrrl movement and how women banded together then to discuss how they were portrayed publicly and how they could take more control of that. I learned a lot from revisiting those ideals and methods and have carried some of it back to work with me that I’ll talk about below.

I think the first and best way to deal with this is to go into interviews knowing that the goal of almost any publication is to write an interesting story. And no matter how wonderful your product is, it’s always more interesting to have a juicy personal story to go with it. So if writers sense some discord on your team or in your community, they’re apt to pick at it. Nothing is ever really off the record (I learned that the hard way) and sarcasm almost always reads as rude in print. So how do you deal with being honest with a reporter without losing out on a story?

The way I’ve watched others do this is to simply focus on what makes you and your work great. You have to be your own story and believe in what you do in a way that is interesting to others. And believe me, true passion for a topic is interesting enough for most stories. Don’t worry about other people’s work and the issues you may or may not have with it. The bottom line is no one wants to hear a brand complain about another one. It may feel good to let it out or sound funny to readers in the short term, but it’s the fastest way to push yourself into that cliche persona of “catty woman cutting down other women”.

I don’t know about most of you, but I’m pretty sure none of us worked hard to get where we are to have it diminished in a second by an off-hand comment. So I hope that all of us working online will pay more attention to what we say, how we say it and who we choose to speak with and trust with our grievances. We all have to vent somewhere, but the safest place to do that is with people at home you trust.

The Future

Everyone is trying so hard right now to nail down the future of design publications. Will print survive? Will blogs? Will online magazines? I think it’s way too early to tell. The oldest of the online magazines will turn two this Fall (Lonny) and I don’t think that’s enough time to give any medium to mature and grow into its best form.

That said, as a rabid consumer of information in many forms, I think iPads provide the most promising future for what we think of as the traditional “magazine”. In a world where printing on paper becomes increasingly expensive and environmentally questionable, the iPad lets us hold on to the idea of having something physically in our hands that we can flip through with a finger. I think the Issuu platform is flawed in its usability. I almost always yell in frustration because I have to resize one page three different times to read main body text, see a full image and zoom in to see a photo caption. To me that current format of flippable PDF magazines online feels like trying to force print into a web world. Where iPad magazine formats seem to be a more seamless blend of both worlds.

So if I had to throw my hat into a ring now, in June of 2011 and make a bet, I’d say we’ll see these publications (and many, many others) turn to the iPad (or other similar, and less expensive, e-readers) for the modern “magazine”. For now I love the freedom that blogging software gives me, but I’d love to see some of the talented people in our field embrace these platforms and push them further to see what creative things you can do with them. There’s so much talent and promise in this community and I know they’ve got something bigger, better and more original just waiting to find the right outlet.

UPDATE: I’m working with a journalist to post a special Biz Ladies post this coming Tuesday about positive media training for young women running businesses. Stay tuned for some helpful tips….

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  • Dang. I’m impressed that you could crank out a cohesive, on-point 3300 word-essay in such a short time. It is disappointing to see The Times turn what could be a thoughtful analysis of the future of shelter pubs (or shelter content) into the script for “Mean Girls 3.” Nice job, Grace.

  • Really well written, Grace. I read the article after you Tweeted about it earlier, and I was surprised by their take, too. As a blogger and a photographer, I feel like collaborations and networking are so important – and many people get that, but when it’s missed, it’s a total miss. I really admire your focus on the business side of things here at D*S – or maybe, to clarify, your openness about the business side of things. I look forward to reading many blogs, and usually they each offer something different. Magazines are the same way, online or not.

    I also think that branding oneself is so important, and so laughable at the same time. One of my least favorite parts of the online photography world is the way the few who are lucky enough to have “made it” will poke fun at the branding necessary. Is it absurd sometimes? Of course, and it can’t replace real talent. But people respond to knowing YOU, and in a digital age sometimes you have to go with the absurdity a little, while still staying as true to yourself as possible. It is possible without pandering to a certain crowd, and I think it mostly comes with time and honesty. I hope that we do see an increase in collaboration and friendly networking, especially now that there’s less of a “x number of subscriptions” mindset.

  • Very good article on the NY Times article! I am writing my dissertation about the future of magazines and its possibilites with the new structure of contents, consumers and technologies, so all your thoughts are very inspiring but also helpful for me!!!

  • Thanks so much for taking the time to respond to this article. I think it’s a great use of your platform to reflect on this issue and share the wisdom and experience you’ve gained in developing such a respected blog.

    I truly hope that women will start to take more control over how they are portrayed. It’s sad to see people being pitted against each other for the sake of a “good story.”

  • Excellently stated! I love both the paper magazine but I also love the new online magazines. I feel that they are the move to the future. I think that if people continue to think of new innovative inclusions and additions, it would make a greater wave. Great post!

  • Thank you Grace. I couldn’t agree more with everything you said. And amen to this: “To me that current format of flippable PDF magazines online feels like trying to force print into a web world. Where iPad magazine formats seem to be a more seamless blend of both worlds.”

  • Thank you for this, Grace. Your response is really well-crafted and I applaud you for putting it out there. I’m not in the business but I am a fan of online shelter mags and blogs and I thought the Times piece was decidedly unfair on a number of points which you argue beautifully.

    On another note, Tina Fey’s ‘Bossypants’ seems to have really struck a nerve —- I find every woman I speak to who has read it has been inspired to do something a little differently, a little more bravely, a little more openly in her everday life. I love that it inspired you as well!

  • Excellent response, with many lessons that go far beyond the publishing/ magazine world!

  • I had strong reactions to the Times piece and wrote a blog article on it myself.
    However your reaction really goes into much more depth and I’m so happy it does. You really touched on a lot of things I was thinking, but was too lazy to write, lol.

    I particularly appreciated your thoughts regarding how women present themselves and are presented in the media. I really hope this article is a wake-up call to younger women to be careful and purposeful in their interactions with media moving forward.

    Thanks Grace for yet another thought-provoking post.

  • Thank you so much for writing this, Grace. I was utterly shocked when I read the article myself, and was amazed at how excited the editors from these publications were to be in The New York Times when they were written about so poorly.

  • It is a shame to see such cattiness everywhere. Yes, be diligent, be thoughtful about your market, be firm in the product. But also be kind, be filled with integrity, be gracious.

    You, Grace, are those things. And it is why we continue to come back again and again.

  • Great response. I totally agree. The accessibility of online publications is pretty hard to compete with, but it’s just different, I guess.

  • I was struck as I read it by how poorly some of the subjects were managing their image. I know that she’s young, but you should always understand what it’s going to be when you go into an interview with a reporter — it’s just like you said: they’re there for a story, not to be your friend. I was really taken aback by how snide some of the quotes were.

    To that end, the only of these magazines I was familiar with was Matchbook, but I have been slightly disappointed in the quality of their writing sometimes. I think they have a lot to learn about producing and editing quality writing.

    That said, I say, the more the merrier. Especially if it’s free to read!

  • Grace,

    I just tweeted a reply to you [from @NicoleFichera], so I’m sorry for being redundant! I just wanted to let you know that I think this response is both honest and smart. I appreciate you speaking freely and critically about issues of perception and the pitfalls of cattiness, especially for women in the design world. It’s difficult to realize that it can be a win-win situation if we support and learn from each other, but in order to be taken seriously we really do have to take the high road.

    I’ve been a fan of design*sponge for a long time, and I really enjoy the thoughtful criticisms you’ve been posting lately. Thank you!

  • This response you’ve made to the NY Times article (which I too read over here in Vancouver, BC) is exactly the reason why I love what you are doing with D*S and why I support what you are doing 100% and why I have chosen to contribute to your biz ladies section. The quality of your articles, posts, photos, resources is exactly what we women need in business in general and as entrepreneurs) need as a one-stop-shop for all things we want to learn. I too, have just finished Tina Fey’s BossyPants and I loved it for a lot of reasons you mentioned in your post (and I have always been a huge fan of how she made it as a woman in a man’s world, so to speak) because she hit the nail on the head – women pit themselves against each other when they would find it more effective to work with each other. I had this experience early on in my career when I worked 2 women at 2 different companies and they were both threatened by my ambition and go gettim’ attitude. It was like they thought I was trying to steal their jobs and therefore, made working there miserable.

    Kudos to you Grace, for having a voice, voicing it to the public and your loyal viewers:) All very good points you’ve made above and I would LOVE to see how people respond to it.

  • I felt the same range of emotions when I read the NYTimes piece last night. Thank you for your honesty and thoughtful approach to this ever-changing discussion! It’s not simply a print vs. digital debate. You said it best, “If you produce high quality content, it doesn’t matter what title you put on it. Good content is good content.”

  • This is awesome. Thank you so much for your passion and dedication to yourself, your community, and your hard work. I believe that this attitude will help move this discussion FORWARD! Thank you for Biz Ladies, and for hearing Tina Fey’s message about women and competition and redefining the setting.

    Rock. It. Woman.

  • Thanks, Grace. Even though Design*Sponge is about design, one thing I love about it is the seriousness with which you take young female professionalism and the energy you expend to share your views and fabulous ideas with the rest of us. The quest for proper respect has become incredibly subtle and difficult to interpret, and your spin on articles like this makes the present situation stand out starkly. But my favourite part is that you always provide a hopeful and exciting future, and you encourage us all to take up the reins and work with you to earn blogs and young professionals the respect we wish for.

  • I thoroughly enjoyed reading your response. Though I am not familiar with the design community, I (as a consumer and fan) enjoy who you are and what you represent and that is precisely why I come to D*S for advice and inspiration. I never knew I could get a healthy dose of GirlPower as well! ;) As a person who loves to express her opinion and try new things, minus the drama and competition that always seems to follow, I appreciate your decision to complete this post. Thanks for everything Grace, you rock!

  • This was a really well written response, Grace and I’m glad you put it out there. I’ve seen a lot of people build up hype for businesses or blogs that simply weren’t remarkable or ready enough for so much attention. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t get there but the hype, and the attitude that comes along with it, can be a bit much. I think a bit more conscientious reflection and time (and WORK) will benefit everyone in the long run. Readers will get a better product and business owners will have a longer future ahead of them – one that doesn’t offer itself up for such criticism and nastiness.
    I really love D*S and sincerely appreciate the effort you make to keep it beyond the reach of all of that. Trust me, it shows.

  • Grace – this is an incredible post!

    I had very mixed feelings about the article too and felt it made a couple of strange category mistakes regarding print versus online. Nevertheless, I do have issues with some e-zines. In particular with how some of them create and foster a particularly silly cult of personality. Also, as a writer, I was glad to see criticism of the sometimes vapid, gushing tone of the copy.

    In our community, there tends to be a polarizing “all for” or “all against” everything (I noticed this with the Anthro / UO debates last week too). This leaves very little room for constructive criticism and I think those extremes of unreflective gushiness or irrational bitchiness are the big challenges to our brands and the legitimacy of our community and content.

    In that way, I think the blogosophere and e-zines still have some growing up to do. And it made me happy to read that you felt that competitive streak sucking you in in the early days but have moved away from it. You’re right; it’s a time-waster and I think it’s one every blogger feels at times.

    For me, the diversification of the medium is noteworthy but should not be the focus. Of course, we’ll continue to see more video, more micro-blogging, more portals and content syndication and collaborations across all media. I would rather the discussion centre on the quality and originality of the content being created for these new platforms, the editorial integrity, the user experience.

    Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful and though-provoking response.

  • I caught the same tone in the Times article and also thought of Tina Fey’s concept of space for everyone, must it always be some chick flick style girlfight? I do have to agree with the Times about the overlap of content, it’s why I stopped reading a lot of print mags that are now defunct. I would rather flip around online (sometimes for hours) and find new and interesting content than to see the same designers repackaged into a different page layout and if I can do that on my iPad so much the better which is where a lot of these online mags are lacking. Thanks for the thoughtful post Grace!

  • To be honest, I find online magazines difficult to read / process. There’s too much content – it’s like trying to digest months of posts on a blog in one sitting. I generally flip through and don’t bother to read any of the articles. It’s just too much! If they were published as blogs with a feature a day (or a few) over the course of the month, I think more people would take the time to actually read and enjoy the features.

    I do love that I can click on a product and be taken directly to the website – that is definitely a bonus, and a plus for businesses when their products are featured.

    One online magazine that I think is getting it right is Covet Garden. Focusing on one home / theme at a time. I actually read and enjoy it without glazing over! It’s not too long, leaving you wanting more rather than wishing for the end!

  • I think you are so right, I like all of the media types for design info. I read design blogs regularly, I like online magazines (although I have not checked any out recently), there are certain print magazines that I will run out to buy specifically and I love to unwind with design TV shows.

    I am glad that I did not take the time to look at the NYT article.

  • Thank you for taking the time to write this feedback. I agree with the comment by Alex about the online editors seeming to be so happy about the press but the tone of the article was awkward and biting, to say the least. I love that you brought Riot Grrl into the discussion as an example of a community where creating a supportive environment was the priority.

    And thank you for your comments on the lack of editing in some of these magazines! I’ll often flip through the pages and wonder why the features need to go on for so long. Lastly, I hope the editors of these publications, many of which I enjoy reading, take these comments and use them as a chance to progress and grow, because, as you said, there is room for everyone.

  • Grace, I especially like your comment on blogs and ezines (and print magazines, for that matter) needing to get back to EDITING. I’ve been lucky in my design career to have been “interviewed” many times by bloggers and reporters. Nine times out of 10 I am emailed a list of questions before the interview and am asked to email back my responses. The first few times I did this I was HORRIFIED to see that my responses, which I thought would be used as pre-interview research, were instead reprinted verbatim (including typos and grammatical errors). Most of the time the story gets published without fact checking. More often than not I end up writing to the editor of the story to fix some major thing … like the correct name of my company, which certainly would have been caught by a fact checker.

    As someone with a master of mass communication (and an undergrad degree in journalism), this appalls me. My professors are most likely in full freak out mode at J school right now. Knowing that “interview” responses will usually just be reprinted without any editing allows subjects to control the story completely. Something to keep in mind as you read articles, huh?

    Don’t get me wrong, I am totally fine with Q&A format. I love to read Q&A articles. I especially like Q&A articles where it is obvious that the questions follow a logical progression, showing that they are the result of an actual conversation.

    I do think it’s the editor’s responsibility to EDIT. At the very least do subjects a favor and fix typos and add a sentence or two of commentary to the story before publishing.

    The core subject here is credibility. It’s going to be difficult for “traditional media” to take online media seriously until everyone steps up their game a little.

  • Thanks for this great commentary. I read the NY Times article too, and I also felt the writer was missing the real story.

    To me the true story is that these entrepreneurs are seeing cool new content delivery opportunities as print magazines die out; how they’re building teams and businesses around them; and how print mags are involving into digital mags.

  • Grace, You are once again so spot on with your response. I felt the tone of the article was mean-spirited and in many ways like high school. One of the things I love about the world of blogging is everyone’s generosity and willingness to share information, sources and techniques with those of use newer to the arena. A far cry from the tactics of the fashion industry where i spent 20 years. I write about all things eco-friendly and the design aspect of it is certainly the most competitive {possibly because there are so many talented people involved in it}. I was in one of the first classes of women at the college I attended and it was no easy task to lay the groundwork for those that came after us. When I read articles like this one, I feel like we take a giant step backwards. There is enough room for everyone and the sooner women learn that we can get further supporting each other rather than trying to stand alone, the sooner we can get past being treated as anything less than savy business women. You said it best, ‘Good content is Good content’ and readers will follow that wherever it happens to be. Yikes-i guess this hit a nerve!

  • This morning:

    Me: They would never write that article with that TONE about guys.
    Husband: Guys would never, ever give those quotes.

    I agree with all your points, 100%. The ugly catty attitude for me was so painful to read because, as you point out, none of these magazines are there yet — and are still able to get advertisers.

    But those quotes. My god. That quote about the competitors using the software program (“oh, really, guys?”) made me – literally – put my head down on the table and sigh.

    • julia

      i did the same thing. i could feel that happening and how easy it would be to let that roll off your tongue if you were annoyed. it’s so easy, i’ve done it myself and it sucks. i just felt awful because the whole thing was set up to feel like a cat-fight between girls.

      however, i have heard guys talk crap about other guys and it’s the age-old “that’s just business.” or “they’re just being tough”. you never get anyone saying “mee-ow!” as a response to that. however, i’ve had many a man react to me being just the tiniest bit aggressive in business with comments like “ooh, cat fight!”.


  • Wonderful article Grace…as a reader of many style and design blogs…I had many of the same thoughts as you. I am so happy that you wrote about women and competition. I believe the greatest business resource we have is each other. I am equally interested to see the future of online content and how it unfolds, and agree that Ipads and E-readers will play a huge part in how we absorb information in the future. Well Done!

  • Wow, Ms. Adams has a lot to learn about being media savvy with the media. That article did not put a very positive light on her or her publication. I couldn’t agree more with your comments regarding women and competition. You can be competitive in a professional way – its just knowing how to do it.

    And yes, editors should EDIT, 38 pages for a spread is too much.

  • Thanks again for an upbeat and tactful reply to what I consider a somewhat hasty article about the online publication world. Cheers to women entrepreneurs!

  • The timing of this is really funny to me. My business partner and I just invested in iPads to do sales presentations, but I have fallen in love with it for all of the other things that it can do too. One app that I love takes the RSS feeds of whatever blogs I like and puts them together in one place. It’s pretty simple and nothing strikingly innovative. But it is amazing what a difference it makes in how I collect my content!

    I AM the editor of my magazines now. I can subscribe or unsubscribe to whatever
    authors I like. I make my own magazines by compiling MY favorite blogs together. Why would I buy a digital magazine where I may not like particular writers? Even worse, why would I ever buy a print magazine and deal with all of the ridiculous ads and this “thing” that sits on my desk until I have time to read it? Blogs are more relevant than ever.

  • Nicely poised thoughts on the future of online magazines. As the creator of an online food magazine set to launch this year, the thoughts from you and your commenters are a good barometer of the online publishing market. I agree with your take that editors must take a deft hand in the editing process to produce original content on their niche’s core subjects. Content is king but I enjoy it most when it has a unique spin, whether online or in traditional print formats. And there is certainly enough content for blogs AND print to survive and thrive. Thanks Grace.

  • i loved this. i work in publishing and am always trying to find new, inventive ways to have our content flow onto the web as well. it’s not easy and quality content is something i always try to keep as a forerunner for anything else that’s posted online. and you’re right, cattiness is everywhere especially if you’re working in a smaller scale, but it is so time consumer and really just distracts from the important goal of making sure the work you are producing is authentic and good.

    thanks for taking the time to go in-depth and really focus in on what wasn’t said in the nytimes article. it has given me a lot of food for thought as i go forth, meet new people and portray myself as a professional in my field.

  • Grace. This is spot – on. The NY Times article definitely caused a lot of discussion within our small business (of young women). Your reaction to it was eye-opening and resonated with us this morning. I completely agree with you about the cattiness…we should be building other women up and not tearing them down. I also think the iPad magazines are the future! A seamless transition from print to web – offering the best of both worlds! Thanks for your candor and insight…

  • Wow, Grace! I think your writing is incredible and so poignant! Not to be childish, but the level of professionalism trumps said article by leaps & bounds.

  • I’m so glad you opened this up for discussion, Grace! I think it’s a topic that’s been a long time coming.
    I wanted to contribute my thoughts, point-by-point:
    I think it’s easy for people in the publishing industry to misunderstand the way that blogging works. It’s so upsetting that they dismiss and disrespect bloggers, but I think that really shows how old-fashioned they are (whoever those people who call D*S “a little craft blog”). Obviously the world is changing as technology changes, and blogging is becoming a prominent source of information. Perhaps those people who dismiss blogs are threatened or refuse to acknowledge that the future of print is going to change. I’m not sure. I get really frustrated when people disrespect bloggers too, of course. I think this just tends to happen when a new trend is up and coming, and people don’t really know how to place it quite yet. But that’s something out of our control. It’s like being the underdog who has to keep working and working to be recognized. I don’t really think there’s another way around that other than openmindedness and education among people who aren’t yet familiar with blogging.

    And all your points about online mags are so spot-on. Mostly what I wanted to address is that point about lack of editing, specifically – when you say that good content is good content. Grace, you completely embody your words, because D*S is, in every sense, an ongoing online magazine (contributors, regular columns, etc.), except that you avoid those landmines like overlapping content. Plus, blogging is so much quicker to get information/trends out there, since we save on print time! In that sense, I feel like those online magazines really should take a page from the D*S book and figure out what makes them more unique.

    Amazing post, Grace! Thanks so much for discussing your thoughts on the subject – it was so much good food for thought!

  • Very insightful! I am a newbie to all of this and didn’t realize it could get so catty. So far everyone who I have met and worked with has been super sweet and fun. I totally agree that there is enough room for everyone!

  • Thank you for writing this, Grace. I saw you had posted it just after I read the NYT article. Some great, great points here!

    Also, the new blog design is gorgeous! Congratulations!

  • Had this article been writen about young men doing the exact same thing, the online shelter mag editors would have been hailed as visionary entrepreneurs. I got less of that and more “know thy place, young lady”. Grrrr.

  • I agree with you, Grace. As I get closer to turning 30 I know that my #1 priority in personal growth is to keep focusing on how I communicate with others and how I present myself. It doesn’t matter what your intentions are, what matters is how you come across to people. That’s something we, as women, have control over. I want to be honest, to focus on the positive but stay real. It can be a tough tightrope to walk.

  • Thanks for this post, Grace. I had an uneasy response to the NYT article as well, and the whole thing feels especially close to my heart since I’m the web editor for a print magazine. I don’t think I need to add any commentary to your well-thought-out post, but I just wanted to say that I particularly agree with your points about editing — both the tossing around of the title and the action itself. Again, many thanks for this.

  • All I can say is three cheers to all your beautifully articulated points, thanks for being brave enough to use your platform to take a stand and kudos for your resopnsible use of your leadership to drive this industry – and I do think we’re at a point where blogging can be called an industry – to bigger and better places. Can’t wait to have a hard copy of your book in my hot little hands (while I desperately want an iPad there’s still something to be said for turning physical pages)!

  • I really admire you for taking a stand on this one, Grace. You make a lot of excellent points. However, being a regular-old print journalist myself who works for a daily newspaper, I do want to respond to one or two points you made.

    First, not all reporters are out for blood. As you say, everyone looks for the most interesting details to write in their stories — but not every reporter salivates every time an interview subject says something inappropriate/catty/just plain bizarre. Many journos — including myself — believe quotes should only be used to clarify and highlight a story — not to humiliate. However, we also have to be accurate. Often, we get slammed for “vilifying” people who really are just jerks.

    In terms of the traditional media vs. online media thing, I think its hard for both sides. Just as you spend a lot of time defending your role, I constantly deal with negative blowback for working for a medium that some see as too out of date/too corporate/controlled by advertisers. I hate to say it, but a lot of that negative feedback comes from the online community. I really get sick of the constant “us vs. them” attitude between print and online. I think both sides feel somewhat threatened by the other, but I also think a lot of the distrust between the two sides has a lot to do with the uncertainty in the industry.

    Anyway, those are just some thoughts. Thanks for inciting the discussion.

    • emma

      thanks so much for your feedback. i’ve been thrilled to meet wonderful journalists over the last seven years, but i’ve found that the larger the publication, the more likely they seem to be to look for something snarky to say. i wish it wasn’t the case but i’ve seen a distinct pattern of that sort of behavior. that said, i know there are excellent writers out there who aren’t looking to frame women in a way that’s demeaning and disrespectful.

      i agree that the discussion about print and online publishing should never be an us/them mentality. i personally feel both can co-exist and will continue to grow and change. i actually feel a lot of the pushback comes from writers themselves and not necessarily the publications at large. i know that not all print media and not all online media works as a unit, so i hope that those of us who are open minded and willing to work together (and learn from each other) in both groups find each other.

      grace :)

  • I had the same wincing reaction to some of the quotes, as well. Perhaps because I studied journalism and am a working journalist (though not in the magazine industry), I have sometimes been irked by the little mistakes I’ll notice in online magazines that remind me of things I’d catch when I edited my college newspaper. I admit that when I saw these magazines popping up, part of me was delighted and part of me, as a professional, was miffed at the idea that anyone can decide to publish a magazine with no experience. I can recognize, however, that’s more of an envy issue on my part, and I love that all of these women were brave enough to try, and recognized there are readers out there who are looking for specific niche content. It will just take time to find those unique voices and tones that will separate one publication from another, and it’s unfortunate it didn’t happen on the front-end of the launch process.

    As a former publication designer, I’m entertained that so many people are willing to flip through a virtual magazine since the big dogs at Gannett, Tribune, Conde Nast, etc. assume readers don’t care about a well-designed publication. I care, but I do find the act of it very tedious and often don’t finish flipping through an entire issue. Thank you for being so brave, Grace, and opening up these conversations! I read every single one of those publications and only wish them well, but I think the NY Times article will really toughen the editors up.

    p.s. Reporters aren’t all terrible, but I think sometimes interview subjects forget an interview is a business transaction, and we’re not all going to be BFFs at the end of an interview, even if we did have lunch.

  • The author certainly brought some good points that I think would serve online magazines well to take note. However, I was very turned off by the tenor and tone of the article more then anything else. I just kept thinking…if this has had been men, would they have covered this differently. Hmmm. A little sexism at work here, me thinks. And a bit of ageism thrown in there as well. My biggest advice for all these young women is to get some media training. It’s a brave new world you’ve entered. Think powerfully before you speak. Does your thought serve you well before you say it? You each have to become better ambassadors for your brands, both online and in person.

  • Do you think there will be a second backlash for stealing the “elbow on chair” portrait pose?

    • jamie

      lol. i’d love to see women put in a new photo style other than “girl at a desk” or “girl on a couch”. i feel like men are often posed in positions of power (standing, arms crossed, in front of a full rom or sitting straight across at a desk looking straight in the camera) and it’s part of our job to request different photo situations and really fight for them. i’d love to see more women in media photographed in ways that conveyed power and authority, not just attractiveness.


  • agree with your response 100%, and felt the same conflicted emotions when i read the NYT piece. working in pr, i could definitely smell the heavy editorializing that was going on, especially with the positioning of quotes.

    i know that pr is often written off as a skill that anyone can do/learn to do, but media training/pr 101 probably wouldn’t be the worst idea for these new media entrepreneurs.

    • rachel

      i agree. i’d love to teach something like that with a mix of writers and bloggers. i’ve learned the hard way to be really careful about what i say. more than once i’ve smacked my own forehead for saying something stupid off the cuff that become my only talking point. hopefully someone else can learn from those of us who’ve made mistakes ;)


  • I had a similar reaction when I first read that article and I’m glad that someone with your background and first-hand knowledge was able to respond to it in such an informed, honest way. It’s a shame that the editors of these magazines, which are so often branded as variations on a theme, didn’t use this opportunity to highlight the differences in their point of views and unique missions. It would have been more constructive than simply voicing opinions of their so-called “competitors”. I’m also surprised the author neglected to discuss the fact that this new wave of online magazines is strengthening the community for women business-owners as well as freelancers and providing more opportunities for design enthusiasts to turn their hobbies into actual careers.

  • Thanks for sticking up for quality and hard work, Grace. I really appreciate how you recognize how young women are treated in the design industry- but instead of whining- you talk about what we need to do for ourselves. Let’s roll up our sleeves.

  • Grace – your response comes from all the right places…respect, integrity, and authenticity. As a mother of two young daughters (ages 9-1/2 and 8) I am ever mindful of how we/they cheer for each other and boost their girlfriend’s achievements…and show respect and courtesy even when they disagree with someone. I don’t want them to encounter the same girl aggression behavior I and almost every woman I know experienced growing up…..and the same competitive workplace environment I encountered as a marketing professional amongst women before choosing to stay at home with my daughters and pursue my art. As a society we need to model different behavior….both in the home/schools/communities and the workplace. Your well-thought out and passionate response to the NY Times solidifies your place as a visionary for this field and publishing opportunities to come. Thank you for sharing your insights. Cheers!

  • I really appreciate you taking the time to voice this. As women in a dominantly feminine field we need to respect ourselves and take ourselves seriously in our careers if we expect others to do the same for us. I agree that it’s important to maintain excellency on our blogs (written information, design, video, and imagery) even though they are an informal outlet. Thank you for your thoughts on this important issue. You’ve pushed all of us to be better.

  • i rarely leave comments on here, but i had to say THANK YOU grace, for not only standing up for digital magazines, but also bloggers who take what we do very seriously. there were quotes in this piece that made me cringe (where’s your PR person when you need ’em!?) and things blown out of proportion (really, we’re talking about using issuu as a platform to create ‘drama’?). i was so excited about the piece initially, but the more i read, the more upset i was. as an editor for rue, having worked with michelle and ellie at lonny, and considering paloma and katie to be inspirational friends of mine, we all deserved to be represented better than this. the tone was completely inappropriate. there is much to be learned in the digital mag world (yes, 20 pages of one story is too many) and there is also much to be celebrated. look at what these amazing 20-somethings are doing with their lives and the impact they’ve had! kudos to you and thanks from the bottom of my heart. ~ cassandra

  • Great article, Grace. A wonderful example of the very “real” content you can find online! I really agree with so many of your very smart points, especially that there is enough room for all of us. When I first started blogging for other people 5 years ago, the scene seemed much more cutthroat in an old-school publishing way. But now that I’ve started my own blog, I really enjoy how collaborative and friendly it is. Maybe it’s because I’m “at the bottom” and pose little threat, but I have to say that many vets have been nothing but helpful and encouraging. Is all this nurturing perhaps the influence of so many women in one business? I’d like to think so, but I don’t know. Certainly it could be a model for so many more industries, because such collaboration really does lead to some extraordinarily rich and exciting products. Having just started my business, people always tell me that I have to be more competitive and think more like a business woman. While the later is certainly true, I disagree with the former. I think I have to produce thoughtful content that is genuinely me and then be smart about the connections I make and how I put myself out there. Thank you for giving me the strength to do just that!

  • Honestly, I hadn’t heard of those publications until you tweeted about this article this morning. My focus in terms of what I read online has mainly been on the DIY, budget home makeovers and projects for so long that it seems silly to try and read a publication. I prefer the blog format for now – all of the content I need is right there, aggregated on my feed reader of choice. My favorite “big” blogs are right there alongside the smaller ones written by my close friends and Etsy pals.
    Most of all, if I feel like the blog I’m following would rather “…focus on packaging and marketing over content,” I can promptly unfollow it in favor of the single moms out there who are blogging their personal observations just to get themselves through the day.
    That being said, I LOVE the new layout! It is so much easier to find the articles and information I’m looking for here on design*sponge, and I can’t wait to get my parents and friends (further) addicted to you. Thanks for all the good work, and keep it up!

  • The most comprehensive, balanced and constructive response to the NYT article I have read today…no knee jerk reaction..just saying stuff like it should be said..loved it ,grace..xx meenal

  • Hi Grace! I just wanted to say I really applaud your response. This article has resonated with me as well, and I just wanted to relay some thoughts I had about it. First off, I just want to say that I absolutely support online media, I am excited about where online publishing is headed, and I do feel the writer missed a great opportunity to talk more about that. I also think there are some truly inspiring and well-edited blogs out there, and it is a shame that credit isn’t given more to those who excel online. But, having said that, I must say I especially appreciated your paragraph about what it means to call yourself an editor. I feel like some people just tack it onto their name without truly appreciating, or trying to live up to, the expectations that come with it. Having gone through a rigorous magazine editing program in college and then seeing people adopt that title without any prior publishing experience just kind of breaks my heart, especially when, in my opinion, there is absolutely room to edit some of these spreads. Since online media is so accessible, I think people’s approaches to starting these magazines is something like, “Hey! I really like to put together mood boards. I think they’d look great in magazine. Why not just start my own? It can’t be that hard!” I know that sounds harsh, but I also think it has some validity to it. And I think this lack of publishing experience and (as a result) lack of quality is perhaps where some of the disgruntled feelings come in from people in print publishing (like this Times writer) when they talk about online media (whether it be blogs or magazines). Print publishing, to the dismay of many, has been slowly decaying for several years now, and with the rise of online there’s now this tension that exists between the two, kind of like the married woman in her 40s being replaced by a younger, newer model. Some have embraced the change and have learned how to take all their knowledge of print and expand into online media; others have decided to dig their heels in and not evolve with an evolving field; and still others are somewhat spitting on tradition and standards that have been tried and true in publishing and doing what they like, without any respect for the craft and industry from which they’re grabbing their titles. I agree that some of these magazine might make really brilliant blogs instead, and perhaps that would be a better fit for their content. However, since I’m sure that won’t happen, I guess I just want to make a plea for all the “editors” to please, please have respect for the title. If that’s what you want to be, then do the work it takes to have it.

  • Grace, this was well written. You wrote it seamlessly and quickly, which is rare. the NY Times did a great job of advertising the industry and cutting it at the same time, with few readers able to recognize the lash. Thank you for pointing out the truth.

  • Hi Grace, thanks for the in-depth analysis and for this post .( kept waiting as you mentioned on twitter you were writing it). I read the NYT article and was also very disappointed in the slightly hostile tone there- If Lonny and Rue were published as a magazine you could buy on the news-stands, they would be serious competition for other life-style magazines.I do really enjoy reading Lonny and Rue, but agree with you it’s not perfect ( the whole zooming in and out is a real pain ) – but I think , more than anything, it’s fantastic there are so many motivated and talented people out there with a real passion for Design and visual art !! Have you looked at what the webpresentation out there is from established magazines that are real hard copy- for sale – issues? ( Of course you have – and don’t you agree they are much more staid somehow ? ). I think this is a very exciti Although I do hope not everybody who has a big blog will start to publish online magazines!! It would be too much!! :-)
    Thanks again for this great article !!!

  • I’ve been looking forward to this post since I read your tweet this morning. I think that your response is mature, critical, and most importantly – useful. You summed up a lot of what I thought of the article in a concise and well-organized manner.

    I’m not in the design industry or publishing industry or anything remotely correlated to the article, other than enjoying reading a blog or two. I haven’t read Domino, Lonny, Rue, or any other shelter mag mentioned. Sorry, but I only moved into a non-berber-carpeted “shelter” a few months ago, so it would have just made me jealous. Not knowing any of the characters, but being in their age group, I thought that Michelle’s pull-quotes made her seem a little snooty and immature. Like I said, I have no idea who she is (until now) but they seemed to manipulate her within the article as “the original” who got ripped off and has a chip on her shoulder. Because that’s a more interesting read than a story about a bunch of writers who all get along, right?

    Part of why I stay away from online mags and most “personal style” blogs is that they all seem t0 have the same voice, and based on their “inspiration” it seems like that voice is either ripping off the tone of Domino (which I’ve never read but they all reference) or some of the original style blogs. In what is meant to sound assertive, so many of these instead sound snobbish and all-knowing… and not in a good way. In that sense the content needs to improve. I really wish that more 20-something bloggers/writers took ownership of their own style and voice instead of trying to fall better in line with a successful blog’s voice/style. There is so much room in the online world for different perspectives, yet this form of molding yourself into a successful model leads to trite reads.

  • First, I feel that kudos must be given to Emma for providing a contrasting view/opinion to the one presented by Grace. With that said, I feel that its also necessary to recognize the kind of dialogue that can be created by an online publication and the community it creates.
    We’re seeing this dialogue right here on this screen as you scroll through these comments and read. I think that this is the best evidence that online blogs or publications are not obsolete and will likely always have an audience.

  • Spot on Grace. About the future, the next thing is the current thing – good editorial – it’s just in a different container… WordPress, Twitter, Facebook, and that top secret gizmo the guys from Skype are working on.

  • Thank you for the commentary! I thought it was so interesting that everyone was tweeting “hey check us out in the NY Times” yesterday. When I read the article, I was like “Did any of these people read the article and see how they were featured?”

  • Let me also applaud you Grace…for your instant and remarkably articulate response (which isn’t to say that we are surprised that you are articulate – you know what I mean.) Anyone who is in the online space knows that you have been one of the early adopters and certainly someone who understood early on that engagement online can be both a blessing and a curse. Your site has matured nicely and you’ve never diluted your brand — you seem to have a natural understanding of what it is that you are best at and what your readers respect and admire about Design*Sponge (note all of the responses above.) Your points are quite well taken and it’s a little shocking that the writer didn’t think to interview you – as someone who has been in the space for quite some time.
    And thank you, from the bottom of my editor’s heart – for sticking up for editors! I also felt the article had a slightly snarky tone – though I think she was trying to maintain objectivity. It remains to be seen how long any of these digital publications stay afloat. But we should applaud them all for trying!

  • i just graduated from journalism school and i have to say, you are spot on. the snooty attitude that comes along with working for print is just a little ridiculous. i love traditional media…the feel of a newspaper…flipping through a magazine…reading a paper book…but i also love blogs and the accessibility writers, designers and creatives can have with some thought to their readers. traditional media was just used to being the great gatekeepers of the world…they decided what was beautiful, trendy, newsworthy…nowadays everyone has a hand in that decision.

  • Grace, I agree with all of the other comments that this was crazy well-written and poignant in such a short time!

    As a reader of a-many design blogs/publications/etc., I love how cohesive the online community is. Sharing ideas, links, comments, etc. I think goes with the world we live in now. And even just being a reader, I feel a part of sites like d*s that I read every day. I too love holding print in my hand, but the online community *is* different, in a lot of good ways that don’t even need to be compared to print. I think you’re right — there is room for all of this to exist.

    My other tangent: I did journalism in undergrad and fell in love with it. Then I went for grad school and learned I didn’t want to work in journalism. It was right as online was taking off and print was…not so much. The majority of it made it clear that “traditional” journalism could be stubborn about change and the readers “place” in content…readers were only valuable in the dollar signs that came with getting their eyes on a page. The online world changes all that, and I almost got from this article that the writer didn’t get that. Almost a, oh, look at these girls thinking they can do what we do! It read as very belittling to me, regardless of criticisms of those pubs. I doubt I’m being articulate, but that just hit a nerve with me on the state of what everyone thinks is online versus print.

    Thank you for a very thoughtful response and discussion. Again, this is why I read and love d*s because you take these things to heart and are open to talking about them. Side note, this is my first time leaving a comment on the new site and I love the design of these! Kudos, girl!

  • Regarding the pull quotes: I’m relatively certain that none of the women interviewed reacted with true aggression; I think people are reading more into them due to the unfortunate way the article was framed. I definitely agree with the “room for everyone” approach to creating content, but I also don’t think that it should be a requirement of women to walk on eggshells around each other to avoid any perceived negativity. At the end of the day, they are running competitive businesses.

    I appreciated your insights into the future direction of this media genre. I wish that had been a major focus of the NYT article – it would have been so more interesting to dig deeper into “what’s to come” from the various online magazines.

  • I really appreciated what you said about editing content. It’s true that the web affords more elbow room for content, much more than print, but that doesn’t mean you should stretch out and try to fill as much as you can. I was reading an online issuu type mag trying to find a particular feature story yesterday and was frustrated by how much they had packed in and how many pages there were. It would have been much better had it been broken up into different editions or just cut down to a smaller book entirely. There can be too much of a good thing. I appreciate the content flow of D*S. It provides enough to satiate my daily design content appetite without feeling an overwhelming need to keep up.

    Also like what you said about the iPad. I’m really excited to see that platform continue to develop and all the ways content providers will find to creatively deliver content in the coming years… or months really.

    Definitely going to need to buy “Bossy Pants” on my way home. This is the third time this week I’ve heard about it.

  • Grace, you are spot-on here. I find these points true of not only female-run online publications, but of small businesses too. Honestly I think the big magazine publications are desperately scrabbling to remain relevant in a virtual media society. I find it laughable opening the few magazines I subscribe to, finding them featuring products I saw on my favorite blogs 6 months prior or fashion mags glittering their pages with fashion bloggers.

  • As a fledgling blogger and huge consumer of the very media that the Times article discusses, I want to say “thank you!” After reading the article I had the same thought regarding how this “new” media is consumed and put down by the traditional outlets. While I haven’t gotten hooked on any of the e-magazines in the article, I read almost 100 blogs on a consistent basis. The notion that they’re competing is ridiculous. Each blogger brings a unique voice and I find something I enjoy or I stop reading.
    I also think your comments on actually being an editor are right on the money. I have a journalism background, ran a small regional magazine in college and worked on a newspaper for my first job. It takes real work to edit photos and stories, but that’s the job of the editor. And in the end, the story and the package should be better for it. You don’t NEED 60 images if 20 will do. It’s about finding that balance. And that balance is what adds credibility to your publication.
    Anyways, thanks for having the guts to lay it out there and the smarts to do so in an intelligent and civil manner.

  • Here here!
    I emailed the author, shared this post, and am generally inspired!
    I can’t believe the tabloid style of the NYT article, and I am happy that you ranted against it.
    Also, I am getting my hands on BossyPants as soon as possible. So many smart women that I know have been moved by it.
    THANKS for your response. It is completely necessary.

  • I wish I could “like” some of these comments and see the best-liked ones migrate to the top! Did you ever think about integrating the Disqus comment system? It’s best seen in action on Fred Wilson’s blog (45,000 unique readers per day, isn’t that in your range?) … http://www.avc.com/. Great article. Have to go read *Bossypants* now.

  • Grace,

    Thanks so much for this timely and well-written response. While the tone of the Times article left a lot to be desired (and I didn’t necessarily agree with a lot of it) it was exciting to see an article that focused on these publications and started a real dialogue about them. Your response is spot on.

    I tend to lose interest in a lot of online shelter mags and at first, I thought maybe it was due to the medium (I DO love holding and flipping thru a print publication). But ultimately I think why I get a bit tired of these is that there is SO MUCH content it’s overwhelming. Your points about REALLY editing are so well-put – pare the images and content down to the highlights and I think it would serve the articles so much better.

    It’s exciting to see this new media outlet grow and mature and I look forward to seeing where these online mags go from here.

    Thank you, as always, for being willing to offer constructive criticism and for keeping the dialogue open, professional, and with genuine care and concern for the design community.

  • Incredibly articulated, Grace (as usual)! Good content is good content, no matter what label or title it has.

  • Refreshing, intelligent read- you keep hitting the hard topics out of the park, Grace.

    As a freelance AD, I shift projects on a regular basis and it’s always the all-girl offices with the most politics. The passive aggressive undertones can be seething and it almost seems like the women are creating their own glass ceiling, as sad as that sounds. (As much as I hate writing that, it’s the truth).

    I guess it’s a lesson of live and learn, or not learn for that matter…but you’re right. Good work will shine and a mature positive attitude will always reap the most rewards.

  • I felt like the quickness of the interviewees to announce to the world “hey, I’m in the NYT today!!!!” was a ringing endorsement of the insinuation (whether Michelle intended it as quoted or not) that some of the participants in this new field are indeed in it, at least in some part, for the potential “fame” attached.

  • Thanks for pointing me to that article and for your careful response. I had looked at Lonny and Matchbook before, but today I opened them up in four tabs and browsed them one after the other and it was very interesting to do so in conjunction with the article.

    I work at a national magazine/print publication (my photo editor is Andrea who said she worked with you at Time Inc. I think? :) and I read as much design blogs, etc as my eyes can tolerate. I especially relate to your thought about the need for editing. Editing is a refining process that should result in delivering the best product possible. Often, mediocre content can diminish the effect of better quality content if running side by side, don’t you think? That goes for all types of media.

    I am so curious to see how this will all unfold in the next few years. I want to believe that there is room for lots of voices in many types of media, but I think we are also dealing with limited resources, including time. At our magazine, we have a pretty distinct print versus digital world. We know each other, are friendly, help each other when possible, but the print staff is creating the content, the digital team supplements, reorganizes it as needed for web/e-reader.

    I need to mull this all over more. Thanks, Grace!

  • i am a print publishing designer and i loved your thoughts. bossypants is a book I am in the process of re-reading, such a compelling and hilarious take on women in the work place — and how it relates to competition. well said

  • Grace, thank you for your honest and poignant analysis of the NYT article. I have to say, part of me expected that it would not be a strictly glowing review for our online magazines. It is the Times, after all. However, I was taken aback my the angle the reporter chose to take for the story, pitting one magazine against the other. He and I intereacted quite a bit while he was doing his research for the article and so much was left out of the article, including any mention of my partner, Lauren or anything about the subject matter in High Gloss. In my experience since starting High Gloss, we have always had a very positive relationship with the other online shelter magazines, so it is a shame that the article was less about starting a grassroots business within a new medium than it was about drummed up high school drama. Regardless of any of this, I do appreciate everyone’s feedback and the constructive criticism both in the article and beyond. We need it in order to improve our publications. After all, Rome was not built in a day.

    Also, thank you for being an inspiration and for standing up for the legitimacy of blogs and online magazines. I am a blogger first and always will be. I hope that through quality work and positive interactions within the blogospher and design world, we can continue to prove that blogs and digital media provide amazing, original content and are here to stay.

  • Grace – An amazing piece. Thank you. I was so excited when I saw that the online magazines were featured in the NYT (thanks to their own publicity), but wondered if they had read the article all the way through before they sent out their email alerts about the piece. It was not flattering to them and truly denigrated the hard work and passion that all of those women have for what they do. An editor in chief that I worked for at a top-shelf shelter pub would especially agree with 2 of your points – never fall for the idea that you are friends with the reporter interviewing you, and never ever knock your competition. It makes you look petty and unprofessional – and you never know when you might end up working with them. Thank you again.

  • This was really insightful to read, and I think you’re absolutely right on a lot of points. Thanks for sharing. The one thing I wanted to say, as a former print magazine editor (and newspaper reporter), and knowing some of the inner workings of the NYT, I don’t believe the reporter twisted Michelle’s quotes or took them out of context. I know from experience that a good reporter makes you feel at ease so much so that you might forget to edit yourself, and I believe Michelle probably forgot who she was talking to and didn’t present her best image. That doesn’t make the reporter evil. Like you said, Grace, you have to be vigilant when talking with reporters because they record EVERYTHING. It’s their job. Also, keep in mind that several people touched the article, including fact-checkers who would have confirmed quotes with Michelle or listened to the tapes.

    I think the biggest mistake the Times (and this reporter) made was focusing the article too narrowly on Lonny and not getting a wider voice to balance the piece. He made some generalizations about the online shelter magazine trend based on a handful of sites that don’t represent the market as a whole.

    I also hope you send your article to the Times (and perhaps Michelle too so that she can weigh in on whether she was quoted fairly). I’d love to see their responses to your concerns.

    • Gina

      I didn’t mean that Michelle was misquoted- I’m sure she wasn’t. What I meant was that it was framed in a way that made the comment seem to have more maliciousness than it was probably spoken with. That said, I’ve had comments that were said sarcastically (and reiterated, mid-interview, that they were not serious) run as serious commentary in the NYT. That said, it’s my fault for being sarcastic and expecting it to come across that way in print. But I have had reporters take things we both agreed were jokes or sarcasm run as very serious commentary when they were most certainly not said in that context.


  • Man, I really want to read BOSSYPANTS, and this only fuels that more.

    I didn’t read the article, but I thought you made great points in general. Very eloquent post. Thank you for voicing your reactions.

  • Grace, I enjoyed reading your thoughtful response. As someone involved in publishing and wondering where this is all going to lead, I found the NYT article to be a bit light on insight… but your analysis helped me understand just how far off the mark it was.

    Love the new site design.

  • Thank you for this post! I felt that your advice about always playing it straight with the reporter was really valuable and can really be applied to any situation where you’re interviewing with someone in a position of power.

  • I love your courage in saying what you really feel. I also love that you encourage women around you to be the best they can be, and that there is plenty of space for everyone. I totally agree! I am always sad when women get catty or rude towards other women entrepreneurs. Thank you for being a strong, positive, and encouraging voice for women. You are awesome!

  • Thank you so much for this wonderful commentary. I too, had the same reaction as I read the NYT article, and was shocked by the snarky tone. I agree with so many of your points here.

    As an aspiring smaller, more local online magazine, we have drawn inspiration from all the magazines mentioned (as well as others, in particular Covet Garden), but want to put our own spin on it and find a niche in our part of the Midwest. We have also found a great deal of useful information in your Biz Ladies section and want to thank you for that as well!

    I am sending this article to all of the members of our team to read, with an eye to the future as our e-zine and blog grow in the coming months. We are publishing our first issue next week and this article has given me a new sense of enthusiasm as we push through the upcoming busy weekend!

    Thank you again for your honesty and well-spoken point of view!

  • Thank you so much for sharing so many great points. I think this is a Grace quote worth framing…”there is no shortcut to the success that comes with hard work without doing the hard work”

    You are a true original and an inspiration to us all working hard in business!

  • Very well written Grace. Thank you for sharing your thoughtful response. I agree with much of what you said and was also surprised at the tone that the Times took in the article.

  • Thumbs up, Grace! What a great response. As someone who works in a creative field mostly populated by women, I have seen and felt al of of cattiness and jealousy. I am tired of it. I also cringed while reading those quotes and was really disappointed in the reporter’s point of view.
    I wonder if the rejection or belittling of online content is generational. I’m 32 and up until a few years ago was very attached to my print publications. I loved to tear out and store inspiring images in binders organized by category. I loved to hold a magazine in my hands. I have since gotten used to reading (and enjoying) content online and favor it for its convenience. I love the accessibility and diversity of blogs and online mags. To say that an online publication is “less than” simply because it’s online seems very outdated to me, and I can’t help but think that the critics speak from a place of fear. Maybe they feel threatened by this newer medium.

    And, by the way, love the redesign!

  • Wow, that’s a pretty defensive response! As a practicing interior designer with a blog and a publishing background (worked for some of the major textbook companies and also in online textbook publishing during the dot com craze), I had no problem with the article in the Times. I didn’t find it snarky. Did I miss something? For me, boils down to same content, different delivery mechanism…

  • Grace, this is why I read Design Sponge. Not just the pretty pictures, the ideas, tips, inspiration. Although it’s all that too of course. But the most important reason is: Your personal way of writing and the way you give this blog a face.
    I think this piece is spot on, and I read it with pleasure.
    By the way: I just bought an iPAD a couple of weeks ago, and I would bet the same way. 100%. Be it with an iPAD or any other tablet: I think this is the future way to read a magazine.

  • Grace: You so effortlessly expressed what so many of us are feeling. I was so disappointed to see these women resort to such caddy discussions. I for one, felt that someone who is “editor in chief” should not bite the hand that feeds them by basically inferring that blogs were inferior to them. Hopefully, with experience these young women will rise to focus on the positive.

  • Excellent response, Grace!

    Had the NYT article had been written about young men publishing online magazines, I can’t help but wonder if the the angle would have been completely different. The men would be portrayed as capitalizing on a market opportunity, praised for exploiting online opportunities, and commended for giving traditional print media a run for it’s money. They would not have been painted as inexperienced, naive, unimaginative, and shallow like the women in the article.

  • Thank you for posting your response Grace, your points have fueled my thoughts even more. I finished reading the NYT article with completely mixed feelings that I can’t stop thinking about. Aside from feeling incredibly disappointed with the reporting (the tone, the angle, and overall missing the point), I can’t help but view those involved in this exciting new industry differently now that I know more about their professional backgrounds.
    As both a journalist and blogger – two roles that I treat very differently – I wonder if online mags attempts to combine the two is part of the issue traditional media has with the integrity and professionalism of these digital publications. As you say, the complete lack of editing, overlap of features, often gushing writing style, and focus on marketing over content – simply wouldn’t fly in the print world. To pin yourself as a magazine (off or online) and take the title of editor, you need to step up to be taken seriously. I worry that maybe some staff of the digital mags aren’t quite yet equipped for the mammoth job. The apparent snide comments to the reporter are one small example of this, as a magazine editor you should be well aware of how things can be twisted for a juicier story!

    However all this said, I am a big fan of online magazines and have HUGE admiration for these young women who have taken risks to venture into the unknown; they are amazingly inspiring and I hate to see them put across as bitchy school girls when this does not seem to be the case at all. I think we all know a female reporter would have put out a very different article.

    I’m excited to be involved in such a vibrant arena and can’t wait see how all forms of media evolve. I’ll now go buy Bossypants for some more girl power! Thanks again for sparking this discussion.

  • Nicely written, Grace! The NY Times article was really interesting but also made me feel really uncomfortable…I enjoy reading both Lonny and Rue and honestly didn’t want to hear about any catty rivalry between them. I realize that many of those comments were likely taken out of context or given more of a spotlight than the speaker intended, but I love how you spoke about how we should all take control over how we are portrayed in the media, especially as young women. We’ve recently encountered some negative response from other bloggers doing similar side projects to ours and we were really surprised by their reaction. It seems odd to stake claim to ideas that thousands of others are also doing and to feel such a sense of competition within the blog community. We all have a place, big or small, and as long as we love what we’re doing, let’s just all get along and support each other! Thanks again for your well spoken words.

  • Great post. I didn’t really have any idea about any of this, but I appreciate how well reasoned your approach is and this is pretty much a great summary of the issues that anyone in any kind of online and blog community will have experienced.

  • One of the points you didn’t really touch a lot on was the article’s comments on the profitability of these online magazines (and blogs for that matter). It seems like most of these sites are “profitable” because they rely on an army of free labor. That couldn’t happen in the print world, where everyone gets paid. It seems almost unfair to say they’re profitable and that they’ve “made it” when they’re not even paying themselves.
    Yes, there may be enough advertisers for all the great online content in the world, but how many sites actually get to pay their editor, and even their contributors?

    • clare

      you brought up an excellent point, and one we’ve been discussing on twitter for a while now. if i didn’t pay anyone i’d be crazy profitable, but instead i split all the money i get at d*s 20 ways between myself and our writers and ad team. we’ve been doing it since day one. i understand not having a payroll budget right away, it’s tough when you’re starting out, period. but once you’ve been around for a while and are selling ads it seems only fair to kick at least some of that back to the people that make your content. i think eventually content producers (photographers, writers, stylists) will start demanding money for their work (they already are. see the “no spec” conversations online) and we’ll all be expected (including blogs like d*s that already pay) to really push ourselves to pay our contributors as fair of a wage of possible. it’s a HUGE concern of mine and something i’m always thinking about (how can i pay my writers more).


  • I agree SO much about the editing, but I would add that it’s more than just paring down images and words. A lot of the content I come across is full of grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors that don’t necessarily interfere with readability, but cast an amateur air across the text. I really wish writers would be more careful with their writing!
    I haven’t read the article yet, but I’m not sure I want to take a look. In a way, I think some folks at the Times and maybe the reporter, for all supposed independence of the press, may feel somewhat personally (likely just on a subconscious level) about the advent of digital magazines and digital press because of the decrease in print circulation at present. I wouldn’t think it’s intentional, but rather that it’s one of those things that happens without awareness.

  • Grace this was a fantastic response. Your care and thoughtfulness are two of the reasons I keep returning to this blog. Thank you for sharing.

  • I appreciate all of your insights. I’ve been a part of the book publishing world for years now, but I’m new to the on-line/blog industry. I am shocked by the competition and gossipy nature, but I shouldn’t be: the book industry functions the same way. There’s a semi-misconception about novels or non-ficiton, that if someone else’s book gets published this limits one’s own chance of publication. While it’s true that there can only be so many novels about, say, the plight of the silk worm, each book needs to be good for its own sake. This is also true of blogs, and what Tina Fey so aptly pointed out in her book and what you kindly redirect us to is that if we’re true to our own voices (our own well-edited voices) there is room for many. I always give aspiring writers the advice that was given to me: tell your story. Not what you THINK someone else wants to see/hear/experience. That’s the best writing. And the most true with design – the individual eye for details, unique images and ideas. Are there other food/parenting/author/vintage/snarky sites besides mine? Of course, but they AREN’T mine. That’s what we need to remember. Thanks.

    • chrystal

      while i feel this particular author wrote with a tone that felt noticeably sexist to me, i don’t want to perpetuate the idea that all male writers are incapable of writing a fair and balance article. the vast majority are. i think it hurts women in general if we assume that all men are out to portray us negatively. that said, i think it’s wise to prepare yourself for any writer that may be looking for a juicier angle, male or female.


  • Grace,

    I’m so glad to see a woman in the design industry address the catty competitive nature prevalent in the field in a productive way. I’m graduating with a BA in Interior Design in a few months and on the whole it’s the only thing about this industry that just depresses me. I believe there is room for multiple skill sets and experience levels. Truly a good *product* be it a blog, online mag, interior space, photograph etc. is what grabs the attention of the reader. I know I go to different sources for different things and they ALL contribute to my development as a designer. A new editor may have a fresh exciting point of view that is just as valid as the voice of experience. Celebrating our differences while redefining what the design community IS should be the shared goal.

  • Your new website unwisely ate my comment under the guise of requesting me to fill in the email field (which was unlabeled on my screen before I clicked “submit”).

    In brief: I don’t read the Times, and I don’t intend to start now. I read online content according to two criteria (disjunctive): brilliant writing, and design inspiration. If I get both (here!), I read more consistently. But I will cringe through any level of bad writing for the possibility of interesting design ideas (I read TONS of individuals’ blog posts on their DIY home remodeling – one of my favorite things to read). Not shockingly, I am about to start remodeling my first home; my voracious consumption will eventually wane, but I will always be reading about this topic. And I don’t care about (or often even notice) web design, unless it interferes with function (hides text, breaks links, eats comments) – or pay attention to web ads either, for that matter. If there’s branding going on, I’m afraid that’s lost on me too. It’s not why I’m here.

    In short: as far as I’m concerned, the Times could hardly be more irrelevant – in this and many other respects. It would be sad to see the Gray Lady go, if she were still justifying the slowly-eroding dignity on which she has been trading for so long.

  • While I noted some of the same unfortunate framing while reading the NYT article I thought it was overall positive. The comments on this article seem to me to be a lot more negative and unfair.

    I find it especially puzzling to see all of the “would never fly in print” comments – I’ve seen what I think of as horrible editing and horrible writing in print. Assertion that everything in print is carefully checked, beautifully assembled and edited to the pefect and one true number of images seems strange.

    The attempt to take the title of these women away from them seems especially unfair. If your job is to be a chief editor of a publication – then that’s what you are, if you are good at your job or bad, if your publication is succesful or not, trying to say that someone doesn’t “deserve” it is silly and mean, it’s a description of a job not an award.

    • arachna

      that’s my point exactly. if your job description is to edit, you should edit. and i think a lot of these publications are, in and of themselves, examples of a lack of editing.


  • Right on-point, Grace. I would take your point further to say that, unfortunately, the catty, arrogant exclusivity that seems to permeate “big brother print’s” attitude toward online publications too often is mimicked by its more “famous” little sisters in regard to other online creatives (aspiring bloggers and editors, small business owners, etc.) who are experiencing necessary growth and change. It’s out there in plain social media sight, via Twitter, inaccessible business rX programs/blog workshops, content-poor, horn-tooting posts masquerading as expressions of gratitude promising to share substantial, practical keys to success. Let’s step out of big brother’s shoes, “be the change you want to see in the world” and break up the clique, believe in the originality of our own voices so we can mentor and support “next generation” women bloggers/editors through their own growth with our wisdom, life and professional lessons.

  • it’s bizarre you were “rudely laughed at as being a “little craft blog””; isn’t Martha just a “little craft magazine”?
    One can only imagine who would say that.
    Please name names, we all want to know.
    They are rude and they are wrong about DesignSponge being a little craft blog. DesignSponge is certainly not “little”, but is it so bad to be a “craft blog”?
    If being associated with “craft” excludes “exclusive” audiences and means BMW, DeBeers, and Clive Christian will not be buying any Ads, so be it.

  • I didn’t get a chance to read the article you are talking about, but I was shocked when I came to the site. I do not like the new layout or website look. The advertisements are oddly arranged and the dark background makes them pop too much, which distracts from your awesome blog posts. I loved the natural burlap background and skinny column for posts. I will continue to read because I like the content, but I will miss the old look every time.

    • ashley

      all of the advertisements, except for one, are exactly where they were on the old site. we only have 2 new units, and one of them is in the exact same place as an old unit, it’s just more of a square and less of a rectangle.


  • Three things
    1. Yeah. What she said!
    2. Having never worked in publishing, I can only imagine how irritating it must be for major pubs like NYT to hemorrhage advertisers and readers for years, only to see some whippersnapper with an Issu account swoop into town and play prom queen. The passive aggressive attitude taken in this article is not unlike the attitude the interviewees take toward each other—an equal blend of admiration, snarls and smiles. The whole thing incestuous and strange. What would I give to be a fly on the wall in that editorial meeting?!
    3. As long as you brought it up, I also read Bossy Pants last weekend, and oddly enough, when she started talking about women building success as teams and not as competitors, I thought of you. There aren’t a lot of women out there who take on the “Ladies, cut the crap!” battle cry, especially when there is money on the line. You use D*S to give a lot of people in the online world their first break, myself included, and I thank you for it.

    …all of that is to say, you tell ‘em Grace!

    • peaches

      thanks, although i wanted to ad one note. i don’t think issuu is the prom queen related to the ny times stats. the times has an unbelievable (and well deserved) amount of traffic and subscribers and blogs and online pubs can’t come close to rivaling that. however, i have been on the receiving end of rants from print writers who feel bloggers are responsible for readers having shorter attention spans and demanding more content more often. i feel they have a valid point there and while i don’t feel it’s necessarily a bad thing to desire more regular short-form content, i do think that we’re not necessarily stealing advertisers or readers from publications like that, who frankly it’s impossible to compete with (currently) in terms of traffic, influence and loyalty. i mean, the times in the times for a reason. that doesn’t mean it’s perfect, but i don’t think issuu is actually hurting them too much. though if anyone has stats to back that up, i’d be very curious to see what the actual figures are in terms of effecting the subscriber rate at the times.


  • Grace! Thank you SO much for using your platform to speak to these issues. I thought I’d chime in with one interesting point that wasn’t mentioned much. Circulation figures!!! These new publications’ circulation figures were rather surprising and were much lower than I expected and significantly lower than many successful blogs (obviously due much in part to the fact that blogs update daily, whereas a mag has a large handful of fresh content all at once, bi-monthly). But like you, I’m a little confused (at this point) with the online mag trend. The non-print flipping leaves a lot to be desired and doesn’t replace what I used to love about flipping through real pages of Domino. All that to say, it’s so crazy that although their unique visitors are much lower than I’d expect, perhaps because they are “MAGAZINES”, these publications are supporting staff members?!?! Crazy that changing your format to magazine, and editing your content so it fits into a bi-monthly package means that you can command higher ad rates? I think it’s just another example of how bloggers are still the stepchild of the publication world–even after they have earned readership that far outstrips online magazines (at this point). There’s just something about calling it a mag and putting on the “clothes” of print. Although still not good enough for NYT, these pubs seemingly command higher prices per visitor. I find it pretty interesting.

  • Dear Grace,

    Thank you so much for your post on the NY Times article. As a Co-founder and Art Director for High Gloss, the article was a double-edged sword. While it is exciting to even be on the radar of a long standing publication, such as the Times… it is also disheartening when I know how much blood, sweat and tears go into putting our publications together. What I hope everyone can take away is that many of us are grass-root online publications and like any start up, we all need to improve and get better… as the businesses grow, we all will be able to take on more staff… to fix the mistakes and get better with age. Like any start-up, there is nothing wrong with the company car, being your “parents explorer”… this is what drive, ambition and determination is all about!!! We all are also women who are making it on our own with an economy that is ready to take anyone down in a second.

    • lauren

      i totally agree. although i actually found that “parents explorer” to be the most endearing part of the article. it was nice to see the magazine being sold as the more “professional” of the set in a light that made it feel more down to earth and relatable. i think relatable quality is what makes so many online publications really connect with people, so to see the “real” side of any publication, online or print, is what makes us love something. i would have loved to see more of that part of each publication.


  • A key difference between traditional advertising and online, is that online ads find the reader. Using tools like google ad words and others, the most relevant locations get he ads. A well designed site leverages those and other technologies to ensure that readers get the right content. In traditional media, ads are sold well ahead of publication making competition a way of life. This is not th case where adwords can be purchase for small money. Finally, a dialog like this one cannot happen with print media. This community around a topic is the true power of blogging and online community participation

  • thank you, grace for such a well thought out response. when i first read the article, i was taken aback by how catty the women were, but now i realize how easily words can be twisted and taken out of context. i don’t like how ny times framed the whole article overall, but i agree with the constructive criticism about editing. right now i find myself still drawn to reading blogs. as much as i eagerly open up an e-mag, once i am in the issuu platform i find myself just clicking, clicking and clicking through the pages.i don’t really read the content because it’s just a pain to zoom in and out. i also feel like sometimes the writing isn’t tight enough, it might be grammar but it’s also the point of view that is lacking. i feel like the shelter e-magazines are still trying to find a distinctive voice and unfortunately, a lot of the content just frankly looks the same – like the gift guides. maybe it might be better to focus on a quarterly publication rather than bimonthly? quality is always better than quantity anyway.

  • What an articulate, well thought out response. Thank you, Grace.

    As one who writes a blog purely for fun and connection among other design junkies, I was amazed at the catty, critical comments in the NY Times article – both from the writer and of those interviewed. I have been shocked at times when some bloggers have attacked other bloggers verbally – really, do they not realize how poorly their comments actually reflect on them? I am off to download Boosypants on my reader right now . I think women in all fields should take a lesson or two from Tina Fey. What good does it do any of us to belittle others?

  • OH MY fREAKiNG GOD… I LOOOoOovE DS REVAMP! Was reading the preview post halfway when I realised it, and half-thought I chanced upon the wrong website! Shocker, but a GOOD shocker! Great job babe! Mosdef the best look by far, yay yay and YaY!

    Oh and will be back to comment on this post once this sinusitis brain has cleared up in finishing up on the read. Being in the publishing line myself, I think I have some words to share… BRB! Xoxo

  • Great response. I read the NY Times article this morning at was shocked at the tone of it. I really thought they would get to the meat of the conversation much more: are these publications sustainable, are they addressing a void in the industry, etc. Those topics were covered so lightly that the article seemed incomplete from a content point of view.

    I really enjoy the online magazines but do agree they have to edit more. Their voice is diluted by over information. I also feel that the personalities behind these publications have received more attention/PR than the actual content they produce. As a reader that needs to change. If I want to know more about the editors, I will read the content they produce so I can understand their point of view. The editor as celeb that is happening right now cheapens the content for me. Photography is also greatly important to me and I think the photo editing could use a big overhaul. Too many images of the same thing, there is no unique point of view. It is just stuff. Stories need to be crafted and edited from a visual standpoint.

    I hope to see the online magazines flourish. It is exciting to me that you can produce content you believe in without a big corporate budget backing you. The digital media world has opened so many doors for people who have a message and want to share it with a large audience.

  • i agree so much about the hype part. its being shoved down our throats before the content has even arrived, its very off putting, even if i end up liking the final results.

  • This response was really challenging for me! It got me thinking about the content of my own blog and the originality and uniqueness that I am sorely lacking. It seems that going with content that is already” popular” means that you will have more chance of being popular too. I am challenged to find my own unique voice and give my readers something new, not just recycled content for the sake of being one of the crowd. If stripes are popular, I can write about stripes but it better be in a way that no one else has! You are a true mentor/teacher for so many of us!

    • sandee

      writing about something that’s NOT what everyone else is writing about is the easiest way to stand out, period. people love to check out “more of the same” initially, but they don’t stick around if it doesn’t have some hook or angle that’s unique.


  • Thank you for posting this. I think your analysis and advice is spot-on, but I can’t help but feel discouraged anyway. As some of the other commentators have pointed out (and as you responded earlier), I don’t feel that a lot of “catty” comments by men are read that way. A woman is a being a bitch but a man is being assertive. We should definitely be thinking about how we treat other women and be mindful about cutting them down, but I think the problem is so much larger than that. I consider myself a feminist but I still will sometimes automatically dismiss a woman for something small, and when if I take the time to analyze my own reaction I can see that I was being unfair. Like you said, sarcasm in person is rude in print, but I’m not sure that applies to men to the same degree.

    I guess I just feel like while this is great advice for any woman, I wish the world wasn’t like this. I wish we didn’t have to be so perfect all the time, so carefully controlled. I feel like women and minorities are held to a higher standard. Our mistakes are not taken as personal mistakes, but as the failings of our entire gender/race. If a woman is bad at something, well that’s because WOMEN are bad at that thing. In order to be taken seriously as a woman, not only do you have to be intelligent, but you have to know how to put up with other people’s rudeness politely and you certainly better look pretty while doing it. If you miss one of those things, your opinion no longer matters.

  • I think the timing of the article is apropos to your recent “redesign.” I was holding back from saying anything (I know this has been a long time coming and I felt bad raining on your parade) – but the NYT article was like a light bulb.

    For me, there are (sorry) two disappointments in your “redesign,” both of which tie back somewhat to this online magazine concept. (I say “redesign” in quotes because I think you focused on background images, tagging and bric-a-brac but missed a major opportunity to drive at your high-level navigation, emphasize the visuals of your content and increase usability. And, even more important – your content is king (queen?!) and should be elevated as such!)

    I wished to see you move toward a UI/nav format that could better support your distinct content sections AND support how incredibly visual your blog CONTENT is (that’s why most of us are here – your CONTENT!). Visually, I really think you’d be better served by a more neutral backdrop that would present more images off the bat (and not necessarily in a standard blog single column – what about something like GOOD, in 3 columns? mixed?) and in a manner that doesn’t force the images to compete with ribbons and new bric-a-brac, that really allows the images and content to be the thing.

    Your information architecture (and overall usability) feels weighed down by “tags” and filters placed in an odd vertical strip in the middle of the screen, with an oddly named navigation at the top (is it Places or City Guides?) and a “why am I here” section instead of a more clear navigation structure that speaks intuitively to your content publishing/editorial sections. (A more clear navigation and visual layout could easily be achieved with your technical platform, but it feels like you got tripped up with the over-designing – figure out your information architecture first!)

    Back to the NYT story – I never expected your re-design to transition D*S into an online magazine, but I would SO LOVE to see you pioneer some hybrid design solution between something that feels so heavily “BLOG” and online mag. Finding a niche between BLOG and content-driven website and ISSUU mag format could be a really cool place to be. (One example, can you imagine if you could just start to experiment with integrating the ability to click on your images/product guides, instead of forcing people to read the paragraph caption beneath to figure out what to click on?!) The NYT article seemed to identify two distinct worlds (blog vs. online mag) – your new presentation and usability is still so heavy blog, but your content, clear sections, publishing schedule and images are more micro-magazine – bridging those two together, pulling out the best of both worlds and what would really rock for your content and your users, now THAT would be awesome.

    • meg

      thank you for your feedback- i’m always open to reading someone’s take on something whether or not i agree. i think it’s valuable to hear what people have to say and to try and find some points that can help you (in this case me and d*s) grow and change.

      that said, we have actually used pictures that are clickable on the site (in product guides) and were flooded by angry responses because people wanted the written out versions and were furious that that clickable picture technology does not translate on phones or ipads. it’s not a perfect technology so we’ve tried to only switch over to images like that when we know they work for everyone reading, and right now the overwhelming response from reader is that it’s not working for them. i just wanted to clarify that we have looked into that and tried it and well, you guys didn’t seem to like it very much and asked very clearly to have the written out lists of items back ;)


  • Wow Grace! Thanks for reminding me my this blog was my first “daily read.” And I couldn’t agree more. Nothing good comes from tearing others down. It’s really hard to start and run a business and I think the more we can support and learn form one another, the more we all benefit!

  • Grace, great rebuttal to “The Times” article. I’d like to add another point.

    It seems to me that what many blogs and online magazines are missing is “Diversity.” Where is it? If one is fortunate, there might be an African American or Hispanic or two in a publication/blog but they usually aren’t given in-depth interviews. If I didn’t know better, I’d assume that there is only one class of people who can design spaces, make beautiful products, and decorate homes.

    My hope is that women of all persuasions become showcased. It’s only with the inclusion of all that we can produce blogs and online publications that are not carbon copies of another.

    • julia

      this is an ongoing discussion we’ve been involved in with other bloggers on a regular basis- and it’s something people argue back and forth about pretty intensely (with good reason). should there be more diversity in blog coverage? absolutely- as long as it’s not done for the sake of diversity alone. my bottom line with content selection is that i want to cover people and products that are inspiring- no matter who makes them. i don’t want to write about something purely because the designer represents a specific group, i want to write about something because it’s beautiful and it’s a good fit for our specific site. we do cover work made by people who represent different minority groups, but we don’t always say it explicitly because to me that’s not always the most important talking point. to add into every post something to the effect of “by the way, this designer is asian” or “this designer is gay” seems jarring and off-focus unless there’s a specific story line that makes that point relevant to the chair or table or interior design we’re discussing.

      that said, i’ve spoken with people who represent every end of this issue’s spectrum of opinions and it’s a tough one to feel entirely secure with. i know personally i would like to cover more designers from different countries and ethnic groups, but i want to cover them in a way that makes sense for our specific site. part of the reason i was so excited about ICFF for the previous few years was because it gave me a place to see designers from different countries that i don’t typically have access to. i am still working harder to make contacts with a wider range of artists in different countries so we can work towards a more diverse range of coverage, but in a natural way. i see it as part of my job as a content producer to constantly stretch to cover a wider range of designers, but i also see it as part of my job to have a curatorial eye that makes sure that beautiful design is always the focus.


  • A recently excellent recap, reaction and dialogue. Thanks for cranking this out in such quick timing, too. You’ve left us with so much to think about our industry, our online lives and our professional futures. Brava!
    btw, the new format is lovely!

  • Grace,
    Part of what makes D*S a daily read for me- and an often-inspiring-in-many-areas-of-life-thing for me- is that it is put together by a team of people who thoughtfully include content on a wide range of subjects; treat readers as intelligent, varied, creative individuals; and aspire to help said individuals with knowledge, ideas, forum for honest discussion, and positive encouragement to take what you give us and run with it in our own ways. You practice what you preach in your analysis, and I hope that you, and your team, can be the leading influences for the future of design media. Thanks for doing the hard work to let us have the fun.

  • That was an excellent analysis. You managed to write a critical review of the article, media and the industry of online publication without sounding negative, just intelligent and observant. When I read the article yesterday, I was a bit taken aback as well as it appeared (or was made to appear) that one publication thought they were in a different strata than the others. I’m in business and I agree, even if you feell that way or feel your ideas are copied, no one wants to hear about it. You just need to keep pushing ahead and coming up with new ideas and working hard to execute well.

    I’m an unpublished writer (impulsively gave up my journalist dreams when I was in college to go into something more stable in my state, accounting, regrets), on the cusp of starting a blog. One thing I am trying to be very aware of is accidental imitation. It is very easy to take on the same tone, style and ideas from writers you enjoy and admire. This could be what is happening with some of these startups, doesn’t have to be intentional, it could just naturally occur until you gain more experience. If you look at a child’s writing, there is often a theme or plot very similar to a favorite book or tv show.

    Once again, very well put Grace.

  • In response to your first point – You are absolutely correct. I am not internet savvy and don’t spend all day perusing online material but I have my blogs categorised: there are 6 that I read EVERY day (‘Really Good’ folder), about 25 more that I read weekly(‘Good’), and another 50 or so that I would have a look at monthly (‘Okay’). While I love my regular print magazines, I limit myself to 4 per month, to cut costs. Online magazines and blogs are in a completely different business world than print media.

  • My first thought when I read this piece? Ah, yes, the media painting women as competitive = bitchy. While people need to be careful about how they present themselves to the media, the media (and society in general) need a serious dose of feminism. Would that we could provide it via injection, or subliminal messaging.

    Excellent piece, Grace.

  • GRACE BONNEY you are awesome. How on earth you managed to get this fantastic and thoughtful respone out in record time is beyond me. Congrats, wholeheartedly agree. And I wish people would shutup about the D*S RE-DESIGN! Unless they have SOMETHING NICE TO SAY!

    I can only imagine the days, weeks, months and vast financial investment it would have taken to overhaul your site. I think it’s admirable you have stuck to the ‘vertical scroll’ blog format – but added a few extra features for good measure. I cannot believe anyone has anything bad to say about it! AGH! x

  • Thanks so much for writing this – it seems to have struck a chord with all of us!

    Like so many others, I write a blog with a few girl friends – I doubt it will ever “hit it big” but I don’t think any of us ever really felt that was the point. We started it to have fun, stay motivated creatively and to be part of what we deem an exciting community. While I shouldn’t speak for others, I think it’s safe to say all of us have found the experience incredibly rewarding. However, since joining the online community I’ve become increasingly aware of how cut-throat and catty this medium can be – even with as informal an outlet as blogging {not that blogging isn’t a valid form of communication, rather informal in the sense of accessibility, quantity, etc}. I completely agree that with the vast number of blogs and now the increase of web based magazines it would be fantastic to see more content control, but it seems to be an almost impossible feat. It seems as soon as someone has an idea it can be found on a host of websites – similar to what I learned in art history, the internet has created the sense that “there is no ‘new’ art.” Someone’s always gotten there first. Or worse, they’ve found a way to do it better. I know that as a designer and recreational blogger I find myself struggling daily with the feeling that it’s all been done before, what am I really contributing?

    However, that is also the inspiring and great thing about such a vast media – it’s ALWAYS going to be new to someone. There’s simply too much information and too few hours in the day – aren’t we lucky to have all this information available to us?! Why split hairs on who got there first or whether it’s on both x blog and y blog {or a thousand blogs for that matter} – although I would really like to see more blogs make an effort to give credit where credit is due. {Our blog tries, but I know sometimes how hard it is to track down the original source.} I agree also that for those who see fit to elevate their website to “magazine,” then there should be more effort to differentiate, moderate and edit.

    While I agree with so much of what you said, I will take a minute to challenge your comment about the validity of “packaging.” I’ve found in my experience working at a branding agency that whether it’s a national brand, a boutique, or a dog – which I’ve actually been asked by a client to “brand” their dog – that “packaging” your product is always important and absolutely makes a difference in how you or your product is perceived. Obviously if your content’s crap no slick web design will save that, but there’s no shame in feeling the need to make whatever you’re selling as appealing visually as possible {even if you’re faking it until you make it}. Frankly with all the well designed magazines, websites and blogs out there, you’re doing yourself a disservice not to make the effort, and I tend to think that these websites were simply being smart and relating to their visually aware audience. {Even Design Sponge has undergone a recent face lift – and clearly you have a huge following, myself included!} That said, I agree that overzealous marketing leaves a bad taste in your mouth {but then I tend to find that true regardless the quality of a product}.

    I find myself coming back to several generic {yet true} idioms… imitation is the sincerest form of flattery… there’s room enough for all of us… can’t we all just get along?

    • sara

      i have no problem with people branding, packaging and promoting their publications- it’s a necessary part of the process. but to invest so much time in it before it’s even launched (which is precisely the time to be spending most of your time making sure your content is spot-on) is detrimental to the long-term success of the product. i didn’t invest in redesigning d*s until my 2nd year of blogging, and even then it was a minor facelift. clearly i was doing that in a different and much less competitive blog market than exists now, but i have very serious concerns about blogs or online magazines spending as much time promoting as they do creating content. promotion is important, but unless your content is perfect (and no one’s is) there’s always more time to be put into the work itself.


  • Grace, this is such a very thoughtful response and I agree with you so much. I can see, too, that your site itself verifies the points you make. Being aware of the platform you use and making the most of it in a way that displays content is key. As well, kindness and respect should be a key part of best practices for bloggers/editors/etc. I’ve gotten a lot from your biz ladies series. Thanks so much for the way you reach out to your readers and the quality content that you produce.

  • If you thought the article was bad, I’d love to hear your thoughts on Million Dollar Decorator! (I posted mine today…)

    I totally agree that women tear each other down and that it is SO sad and disappointing.

    But what the article did do is air a lot of the back talk that has been going on between bloggers for months.

    And also- I have always agreed that there isnt an online “competition” for blog readers… people who read blogs about design or anything want MORE information, not less. The person reading a design blog is pretty likely reading every major shelter mag out there… not to mention the online ones.

    I also totally agree with you about the technology aspect of it and many blogger and I have discussed that there must be soemthing in between a blog and a magazine. Did you see this thing the fashion bloggers did called the Now Manifest? Its basically like a jumbo blog of about 4 different bloggers melded into one… Something I would like to explore as well as an in between Ipad type magazine/blog.

  • This is a great story. I also worked for a print publication for a little bit less time than I would have liked, and now have a blog that I humbly believe contains great content always. I’ve seen a striking change in attitudes at the ICFF. Only a few years ago, I got the nastiest attitude from people when I wasn’t the editor-in-chief of Elle Decor. Now, when I say I have a blog, they’re not excited, but they don’t show nearly the same disdain they once did. I think the tides are turning in our favor.

  • Well said. I’m very new to this blogging world and it seems very overwhelming at times and like there is not a lot of room for little old me. I’m encouraged that you think there is room for everyone. Such an interesting read for me tonight. Thank you.

  • As I was driving home today, I found myself thinking more about the author of the New York Times article. A lot of the comments were needlessly gossipy and written in the US Weekly vein (what stood out to me was the way he described Michelle Adams talking about being on a cleanse), but more than that, it reminded me of something I’ve seen many journalists do: go into the interview with the thesis, and only gather supporting statements. A good journalist writes the story that exists, not the one that was budgeted or planned.

  • Congratulations on writing such a thoughtful, appropriate response. In reading the Times piece this morning, I certainly had many of the thoughts you laid out above. It was so fun (maybe not the right word?) to see you elaborate on these points. Best!

  • I really feel like your talking to me Grace. I love your response and even though I may not know the potential of what my blog can offer the area rug industry, I know that I personally can help the rug industry and promote the amazing talent that often goes unnoticed. My content is only an extension of my research.

    Thanks so much for helping us bloggers stay optimistic in order to learn and encourage each other, not compete. You’re so right, everyone has a unique voice, therefore each blog and each online magazine is unique.

  • Grace, I’m glad that you posted this response so soon after the article was published. You present a thoughtful and critical filter through which to read a rather sexist piece of journalism. Kurutz might soon wish that he’d taken a more respectful tone towards these ambitious female entrepreneurs.

  • Grace, I think that this essay really emphasizes the fact that you are a gifted and passionate writer at heart, even though you “just write a craft blog”. I wish you would share this side of yourself more often because I think you have a really valuable voice in the design community and you always come across as a very articulate and smart woman. Thanks for sharing.

    I could say more regarding the article, but I’m sure everyone else has already said it.

  • Grace,
    Sorry, maybe something’s getting lost in translation – like I mentioned before, I agree wholeheartedly that over the top marketing and promotion early seems inappropriate {and often borderline obnoxious}. Obviously the focus should be on content, and these online magazines should most definitely be making more effort to live up to their print competitors.

    All I meant was that at this point in time, any publication – particularly one dealing with design – that doesn’t recognize an equal need for solid layout and design is only doing themselves a disservice. Arguably it would seem that this would play an even more important role for an upstart online magazine that is trying to compete against existing print publications and blogs. While there are lot of things I’d like to see improved and more thought out with this new media, I appreciate the fact that they were concerned with overall perception and looked to successful visual solutions to help improve their odds.

    Design obviously won’t make up for bad content, but a professional and well thought out design doesn’t hurt either.

    Thanks as always for being an inspiration and continuing to blog about all the things that matter in the design community!

  • Hi Grace,
    I absolutely love your blog, and appreciate the time & effort that you and your team put into it on a daily basis. It is always fresh and inspiring! I think people get nervous when change happens, and blogging has taken over in such a huge way and its unstoppable. I follow many blogs for different things and its great to see many points of view. In a way too its nice because I can sometimes relate to the bloggers. I attended your blogging event @ Terrain last year, and I can’t wait to get your book! What a great essay you wrote in response to the Times article. I feel that in any industry its healthy to have a bit of competition, but great things happen when people put their minds together and work as a team.


  • Your response to the Times article was spot-on. Thanks for taking the time to write it. It is hard not to feel if the people behind these magazines weren’t twenty-something women they would be applauded for their success instead of publicly mocked. That whole article left a bad taste in my mouth.

  • Grace, I so whole heartedly agree with you about “want(ing) to write about something because it’s beautiful and it’s a good fit for our specific site.” But that does bring up another point — are we saying that we can’t accomplish this requirement by showcasing people of different ethnicities? This is the same claim made in the 50s, 60s for not hiring a more diverse group — they aren’t qualified; we can’t find them.

    The Internet hosts such a huge and diverse group of people. If we can’t showcase a variety of ethnicities and their beautiful work, then there’s a huge problem. We might have to dig deeper to find people of varied backgrounds, but in my way of thinking it will only benefit us as a whole. And, again, we’ll have less repetitive styles.

    Thanks again, Grace, for allowing me to throw out some thoughts. I’m probably a lot older than most of your readers. And I do remember these issues from days gone by, which I had hoped would be no more.

    I would love to hear others’ thoughts on this topic. It is only through conversation that we make positive changes, which will enrich us all.

    • Julia

      My apologies if anything I’m saying sounds remotely like I’m suggesting that people of different ethnicities aren’t qualified to create great work. I couldn’t feel more differently. I was attempting to point out that talent is the key factor I look for in covering something, and that I assume that people of all ethnicities can (and do) create beautiful work, so I don’t seek out specific ethnic groups as my first qualifier because I assume that great work is going to come from all over and covering artists from different backgrounds will be a natural part of our editorial process.

      We can absolutely accomplish beautiful design by showcasing work created by people of different ethnicities. But we can’t showcase beautiful work by ONLY focusing on the makers’ ethnicities. My first and primary focus will always be beautiful well-made work, regardless of the origin of the creator. If Design*Sponge was a blog purely about designers, without focusing on a specific style, it would be easier to cast a wider net in terms of coverage. But we, like many design publications, have a certain aesthetic we focus on, and that often means we are focusing on a smaller pool of designers who work in that specific style.


  • Fantastic Grace on all counts. I couldn’t agree more about Issuu. It drives me crazy and i tend to collapse in frustration while trying to read most online mags. In fact, I actually suggested to Katie Armour that it was most important that she make Matchbook IPad friendly, use something like Zinio.. At the time, she said it wasn’t in the budget. So I agree that the IPad (or other e-reader) is the wave of the future. I have already subscribed to most of my print magazines with Zinio. I also agree that most of these online mags need major editing. But most importantly, your point that good content is what matters regardless of format is the most significant point in your piece. Well done.

  • So well said Grace. Thank you for being so open and honest about your own experiences in the industry – really great advice and insights.

  • Once again, it is more then obvious (to me at least) that simply by reading through the comments on this one post, & the care you have put into answering them, that this alone should be proof that the NY Times article is careless and unthoughful in expressing what the true nature of the online world is.

    As a only very recent convert myself, I too was once ignorant to the power of twitter, blogging, facebook linking, etc..as a designer for the past 16 years of higher end residential & commercial work, I honestly felt that it was simply a world of ..well…mostly women..that were on the sidelines of what was truly happening in design – nationally or internationally.

    So wrong that I could kick myself at my arrogance for not taking the time to properly understand how it can and absolutely does influence everything about design, and the overall lifestyle of many thousands – perhaps millions – of people all over the world. my punishment is that I missed the boat …

    The light bulb was quickly lit for me when a client came to me with cuttings and examples..not from a magazine as per usual, but from yours and other great bloggers posts! I was completely set off balance by it – realizing that I was no longer fufilling my duty to this client as “the one” with all of the knowledge and resources, but instead my client was teaching me …! Even though, I dedicate all of my free time to going to fairs, visiting exhibitions, reading magazines and simply trying hard to remain informed – like you said – the velocity of the information, as well as its reintrepretations is what you cannot get from the good old fashioned ‘print’ media.

    So to the NY Times and any of those non-converts out there – wake up! This IS the real world as we now know it. and as you said so beautifully, we can cooexist but whoever remains uninformed and passive to the importance of what blogs can bring to the table is simply going to miss a great oppurtunity to take part in the future.

    Thank you again for your dedication.

  • Wow, Grace. I’ve been sitting here for an hour reading (and re-reading) the NYT article and devouring every word of your well-written response. I think we can all resonate so much with all of your excellent points. Blogging so often feels like a popularity contest where everyone tries to be sweet and pretty, which can often just seem fake. Lately, I realized I’ve been feeling this unidentified pressure to self-promote and market myself like so many of these women do. Through realizing this, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just me comparing myself with others, which accomplishes nothing. The important thing is to stay true to ourselves, focus on our own unique content and passions, rather than worrying about how it’s received or what everyone else is writing about.

    I truly respect you for taking such a logical, business approach to Design*Sponge. What people say, how they act, or how they promote themselves, makes a difference, but what really matters is the content behind it. I appreciate your sincere, honest thoughts on this article in such a short amount of time, Grace.

  • Wow, Grace! You wrote this so perfectly and so quickly – you’re an inspiration! You touched on so many points that I felt when reading the article and some I hadn’t even thought about, but agree with. The whole article had a very negative feel to it. The one thing I’m most confused about is why people are saying these are the online magazines and that there are, pretty much, just these four. Online magazines have been around for a looong time. I remember being super excited getting Seventeen magazine online through Zinio YEARS ago! Not to mention other magazines like N.E.E.T. magazine which have also been around for a while.

  • Grace,

    What an incredible response!!! Very articulate and spot on I feel. Your professionalism and brilliance shines through in every word.

  • right on, grace.

    the times brought up some VERY valid points, but they totally missed the boat on the community aspect of blogging and online publications, and truly did the ladies behind these publications a disservice to create a rivalry where none needs to exist. is there a rivalry? probably in some aspects, but in others, not so much. every single one of us who has authored a blog knows instinctively that we wouldn’t have ANY readers if it weren’t for other blogs, so the ladies behind these magazines are well aware of the communal aspect of the online world in a way the times simply can’t understand, hence the times projection of a girl-on-girl rivalry where none really needs to be. in a way, it’s simply an old media vs. new media generation gap: the times thinks of sister publications as rivals, whereas bloggers and online publishers know that sister publications are just plain old “sisters” in the familial sense of the word- we might squabble amongst ourselves, but at the end of the day, we are family and families are strongest when large and united.

    thanks again for your insightful critique. i wish each and every online magazine as much success as possible, and thank them all for bringing more content into our decorating obsessed world!

  • After reading the Times article I must say that I really do agree with your response. I also have to say that the journalist did not quite get into the information that he had and his take on this information was a bit off the mark. Yes most of the women are younger but the media that is being used is of the younger generation. Gone are the days of businesses being run by the tried and true methods of the old. It is those that can pick up and implement the new cutting edge software that is at the disposal will be the ones to rise to the top.
    Recently software that promotes real time chatting in 50 languages came out and is being used. There is no stopping of new and fresh ideas to come forward. This is what I feel that Design Sponge brings forward and in no way do I see it as a craft blog.

  • Grace,
    As a PR professional who has worked with these bloggers and this reporter- I appreciate your response to this article. So many people outside of the industry do not understand the dynamics of how reporters gather information and craft it in a way to make a powerful story. Like you said- it’s important to promote your marketing initiatives in a transparent and genuine way- but the number one thing is to protect your brand and your own personal brand and stick to your messaging! The tone of the article is unfortunate but I do not think it has to do with the age of the girls being interviewed. I have seen the same fate happen to middle age business men who become comfortable and flattered by a reporter or during a presentation – only to be shocked when they read how the word were portrayed out of context in the paper the next day. You were lucky to learn that nothing you say is off the record at an early age. Hopefully this interview will be another experience to those involved to be cautious about the words they use at all times.
    Thank you for always being genuine and sharing your thoughts with your readers!

  • hi grace,

    a couple of things!

    this is one thing in particular you mentioned that i’d really love readers, bloggers, and online magazine makers to investigate for themselves, especially at this point in time, re: print vs. online. it seems to be a huge misconception:

    –iPads are not necessarily any more environmentally or ethically sound than print magazines. because of the chemicals involved in their making; the resources and materials used to create the parts; the laborers used (and how they are used and treated); and especially the methods of disposing and discarding said chemicals, leftover materials, and resources … because of these things, i really think there should be hesitation in declaring that a move to the iPad helps the environment. i used to work at a magazine that focused a lot on supply chains, and countless times we published (and wrote) stories on going green that would reveal what terrible effects mass-consumer products have on the environment. at the rate iPads are made and then replaced and then updated, their lack of sustainability is indisputable. (compared to other companies, perhaps their practices are more sound–but that distracts us from the issue that mass production of any electronics is rarely a super-green way to go.) i encourage you all to investigate the supply chains and sustainability of any popular electronic company before deciding the use of their product is the more eco-friendly route to take.

    secondly …
    –bringing it back to online shelter magazines: i believe everyone who creates online magazines, or blogs, or any medium that has an editorial element should improve–nay, perfect–their copy (the text, the stories, etc). when Lonny first started, the actual writing was not good. at all. often this is still the case, sometimes at Lonny and sometimes elsewhere. this is not to say that i don’t love these pubs. i love what they’ve accomplished and Lonny’s style in particular is really coming into its own (many of us–our creations, ourselves, etc–start as replicas and end up originals). however, if we want to create compelling material, the actual stories absolutely have to be top notch. and i know a lot of women who would be paid very little or nothing at all to contribute their excellent prose or journalism, editing, and copyediting skills to make these publications outstanding. part of what I love about D*S is how compelling the stories/anecdotes are in the sneak peeks, before-and-afters, etc. it matters so so so so so much. if any of these magazines want to succeed and be respected in the long term, gorgeous editorial spreads coupled with cheesy and/or incorrect surrounding copy isn’t going to cut it. (at least, not for me. this is a huge part of why i no longer spend a lot of time with these online magazines. the imbalance of impeccable photographs next to poorly worded copy is enough to make me lose interest.)

    that said, i loved your response to this article so much i can’t begin to say HOW much, and i walk away from it most influenced by your sentiment that each blog or magazine or anything you create should show your unique voice. thank you.

    • ingrid

      i’d be curious to investigate more about the environmental impact of iPads vs. printed magazines in the long run. if most of the population eventually owned some sort of e-reader i would love to know if that one (relatively) long-term purchase would be more eco-friendly than the constant buying of new magazines each week and month, over and over.


  • I just wanted to chime in and thank you for writing such a thought provoking and positive response to the Times piece Grace. You really touched on some challenging yet very important points, and I’m definitely bookmarking this one to read through again when I need the reminder. And off point, wasn’t Bossypants brilliant. Thank you again!

  • Thanks for clarifying, Grace. I’m sorry you’ve had bad experiences being misrepresented by high-profile reporters. That’s just wrong, and it made me cringe to read your experience. …I just worry that readers will vilify all reporters (and honestly, I don’t know much about that Times writer specifically) based on a few bad stories like this one. Just like I worry that people make wrong assumptions about bloggers based on a few standouts. I’ve been on the receiving end of both generalizations–as a magazine writer/reporter who holds a high standard of accuracy and fairness, and as a parenting blogger who tries to shrug the “mommy blogger” stereotype. It stings. But honest, open discussions like this one always help. Thanks.

  • yes, i would also love a definitive answer. three big factors: how often people purchase new versions of the same product, especially considering how fast new versions are created; how the disposal of “old” or broken iPads impacts the environment; and, if they continue to sell, they will continue to be excessively manufactured and disposed, creating a bigger footprint.
    (also after all this talk of editing down content and i just spilled it all in that earlier comment. whoops.)

  • grace-
    your name truly suits you for your response to the article is so gracefully written. i can’t help but come back to the idea you opened with- “women need to stop seeing each other as competing for the same few spaces.” i am about to turn 40 and i experience this at work almost every day.
    you are an excellent writer.

  • Hey Grace! This post highlights what I love most about your blog. I really appreciate your honest and constructive response. I’m not going to dwell on the NYT article, but I just wanted to make a comment about the future of media. I think so much of the general discussion on this topic (not just here on this blog) has been about how emerging technology and new delivery systems, like the iPad, hold the future of magazines and books (and ultimately, the downfall of print). For me, I think the discussion of the future of media shouldn’t be about digital vs. print or about new delivery systems. What gets lost in all of this talk is the most important thing: content. I believe people will always seek out the content that inspires, entertains, energizes, or provokes them—whether it’s a blog viewed through a handheld, a website on an iPad, a print magazine, or a radio program. No matter the delivery system, if you strive to make a good product filled with good content—people will come.

  • Grace, this is a very thoughtfully written piece containing several salient points that I hope will be taken to heart. I read the NYT article before seeing your comments and found they nearly echoed my own observations.

    My special thanks for touching on the qualifications of an editor and for pointing out that it is not merely a fancy title one gets to bestow on oneself but a real job with specific responsibilities. Every publication must have strong editorial leadership when it comes to both visuals and text.

    (Earnest tip: If you are producing a “magazine” of any sort, please have an excellent grasp of language. Just because you wrote something does not make you a writer. If you are not a skilled editor, hire one. My point being, if you are to be taken seriously you must present yourself professionally. That’s no “old media” principle, it’s just smart. )

    Some time ago, I sent a cordial email to the “editorial director” of one of the profiled publications, pointing out a blatant grammatical error on the site. While she was not gracious enough to send a reply — written with her grandmother’s antique fountain pen or otherwise — she was smart enough to make the correction.

    Tighten those editorial belts, ladies! And best of luck to all of you.


  • Such a beautifully written article, Grace. It really is important that women, and the online community, read it.

  • Fantastic response. It’s funny though because I’ve never felt look down upon as a blogger nor has it ever crossed my mind. I’ve always felt powerful and feel the future is now with what were doing, the rest of the folks will catch up.

  • I really love your point about how things have changed and not only the top 5 will survive. In fact, we the consumers are always looking for more to consume. Perhaps not so good for work productivity, but it’s the truth. As long as the content is good, whatever form it is in, we want it.

    About the iPad stepping into the scene…although I think it’s an amazingly cool tool, I don’t think it’s going to be in every household anytime soon. Perhaps something less expensive will come up, but the nice thing about print magazines was the fact that you could flip through at the bookstore and purchase for a relatively low cost to enjoy at home… which makes me wonder if the bookstore experience is going to turn into digital experiences? Not sure I like that. It’s also nice to have print magazines at the doctor’s offices, cafes and such… are they going to put out e-readers now for their customers? A whole other topic… I know… :)

    Thanks for the sharing the article and your thoughts!

  • Grace, I love Design*Sponge for its inspirational images and well written stories (I’ve been a subscriber for over three years now). It offers immediate and up-to-date information (I’m and illustrator and graphic designer) that magazines can’t give me. I subscribe to printed industry mag’s too – mostly because I like to see printed paper samples! Your website has a huge future, my two year old daughter loves the see it … and she’s already using our iPad. I’m looking forward to web designers using druple – we will see amazing things online very soon. See http://drupal.org/

  • Grace, there are so many different lines of inquiry in this post you’ve written, I could talk about it all day. But I’ll spare you that. I think the most fascinating aspect of this post for me is your point that women can be ‘framed’ through the stereotype of catty bitchiness or competitiveness. I feel there is a whole gender culture attached to this, it seems to be one of the ways women are ‘put in their place’ when they venture into what used to be typically masculine arenas: business and the public sphere. I know most people think women no longer have the same difficulties in the business world as they used to, and to a large extent, this may be true. But, we still have the same old stereotypes following us everywhere we go. I really wish we could move beyond this because until we do, the intellectual, creative and business outputs and contributions made by women are not going to be taken as seriously as they should be.

    Like I said though, there’s so much more to be said about this post, you’ve really go me thinking.

  • Bravo to you: for you well reasoned, savy response. I buy lots of media: magazines, books, audible.com downloads, and I listen to podcasts and subscribe to a number of on-line magazines & twitter feeds. The more disposable income I have, the more I buy. My only significant change in media buying in the last five years is to buy the Economist, instead of a quality daily newspaper (and I read the print edition, not the ipad version). This is why the NYT was so hostile – daily newspapers, not magazines, are those facing extinction. Painful, but true.

  • Dear Grace,

    Out of the many, many blogs/magazines/online things available today, your is the only one I now read everyday. I made a decision recently to actually just look for the source of the content and spend my time discovering rather than take on the volume of ‘not that good’ curators blogs – harsh maybe? My reasons however were, firstly, the volume of repeated/copied content available is overwhelming, but secondly and most importantly, as you point out, there is very little new thought, new angles or innovation of any kind. It was starting to make me literally angry the number of people who ‘swoon’ over something that 200 other bloggers ‘swoon’ over. If I’m going to invest my time in reading anything I want it to be unique, new, thought provoking or informative. Or I want to see the productivity of the maker. I most of all want authenticity.

    I don’t want spelling mistakes, direct copies, poor writing and people charging ads for something that really isn’t good enough.

    I worked in print mags for years – you have to be really, really, really good to get a job at them and there is a reason for that. I don’t think you necessarily have to be a trained journalist, photographer or art director, you can great and be self taught, but you have to work, work, work to get it right. There isn’t an easy way in and I fear many people think there is.

    I applaud your constant level of professionalism, your authenticity in your work most importantly, and your willingness to speak on what is important to you.

    All the best.


  • Intelligent and well thought out argument. I can’t imagine anyone not taking you seriously by now. You raise the bar exponentially! Thank you, Betsy

  • The irony that no has discussed thus far is the fact that most online media personalities-bloggers and online editors seem to only feel validated and that they have succeeded when they are mentioned in traditional print media.

  • Great response. I read the article yesterday and was a bit disappointed about what they choose to focus on as well.

    I began blogging for fun and ended up getting some freelance writing based on my blog, so I was a bit disappointed how they wrote off blogs. Blogging is great because of its democraticizing effect. It gives people a voice and possibly a way to get their foot into the door. If online magazines aren’t relevant or competitive why is the article so quick to compliment them at times in a back hand patronizing way?

    If anything, they have really made print consider their agenda setting. I feel like magazines are more relevant today and more intune with what readers want due to the evolution of online media.

  • i have a real problem with the formatting of on-line magazines. I find them clunky to navigate, time consuming and off putting, honestly. The web is not a magazine. Why should the page be set up like a magazine, so you can’t see it? It’s crazy. A scrolling blog format makes much more sense to me. If you don’t like what you see simply scroll past it to th next item.
    I also feel that the web based design pieces are not up to the quality of print yet in terms of introduction of new ideas and trends. This is what the best magazines did over the years. Does anyone remember the cover with huge sunflowers on it, that set off a small sunflower trend, or the pictures of the Hollywood director’s home with glass sided kitchen cabinets that started that small trend? Right now the design community online is quantity over quality, too much reposting of professional content, and the original content is not of a quality that can compete with the best of the design magazines. I am very surprised that the great design magazines have not jumped on-line, even if it is behind a pay wall. It has to happen eventually and I am not sure why they are dragging their feet. I see most of their content on-line in blogs before it hits the news stands, so I just don’t get why they aren’t in the game on-line. It is the future.
    For myself, with my blog, I decided to go with my own original content only. It is a photo blog of my life in Savannah, Georgia and environs with no advertising and few followers, but it is my own little gallery, and there is no re-posting. That was the only way I could do it.

  • I want to leave a quick note here about how much I enjoyed your response to the NYT article. One of the things that disturbed me most about the article is the obvious sexism, whether it was in the tone of the article, the article’s portrayal of the women involved, or the women’s own self-representation. Here we have a part of the online media industry in which many women are involved (more than men? I don’t know!), yet they seemed to come off as extremely uneducated and inexperienced in the article. I do not believe this to be the case at all, given the fact that so many young men in related fields of online media are viewed as young visionaries, CEOs, or whatever. I definitely blame the author for that condescending tone.

    Even though I am not in the business (I am a casual reader), I love the Biz Ladies series on DS, in part because it seeks to address the issue of how women can be in charge. Self-representation is a huge part of that, especially since we are (broadly speaking) taught to marginalize and devalue our accomplishments. It’s unfortunate that the editor-in-chief of one of the online magazines laughed at her title before accepting it, because I completely understand the inclination, but women need to learn to own it! And so what if there’s a huge learning curve? Where isn’t there? How many other forms of media, ie. music, are struggling to define themselves and compete online?

    I’ll end here with another ‘thank you’ for this response.

  • High five on the responses, both the original blog post and the continual involvement in the comments. Whether somebody agrees with your stances or not, this is a fantastic example of a quality blog post. There have been many such examples here at D*S, but honestly this may be the best one yet. Kudos!

  • I read the NYT article only after reading yours. Frankly, I expected the article to be much worse, based on the tenor of your response. As a reader (consumer) of the NYT article, I do not automatically hold this, or any, author to be a valid arbiter of settled opinion. Lack of professionalism cuts both ways. (Although you rightly choose not to make that point in your article, I do feel it’s worth saying). The version I read contained two corrections to the NYT article which merely served to substantiate my own opinion of the integrity of the author.

    I think what I’m trying to say is — and I know this from the comments here — readers aren’t stupid. They don’t automatically drink the kool-aid. While it would be “a good thing” for young women to take control of their own portrayal in the media, to imply that all authors of this type automatically have credibility does a great disservice to discerning readers. However, I am so glad you wrote a followup article pointing out the misinformation being perpetuated by the author’s bias. Not being an insider, I wouldn’t have picked up on some of the subtle prejudices carried over from traditional publishing.

  • Very well crafted response. I think you grasp that there is enormous potential in the niche of well-designed sites that straddle the line between enhanced blog and magazine. I admire the constructive, creative, and supportive attitude you bring to this site. I think people love DS because it is so accessible. Keep up the good work!

  • I agree with you entirely… your points are well made & needed to be said! Although I read Design Sponge religously, I do look at Lonny & Matchbook on occasion & am addicted to Elle Deco & Living Etc… all very different & each suits a particular facet of my interest in interiors & home life… there is room for all to exist & thrive and for all the women involved in these enterprises to do the same.

    I love the new site & I find something interesting and inspirational on every visit… keep up the good work & thank you for this post… :)

  • You, Grace Bonney, are a class act. Bravo for putting together this insightful, well-written response and for cultivating the kind of community you have (as evidenced by all of the equally insightful and well-written comments)!

  • I have always felt that design*sponge stood out among lifestyle publications for its honesty, seriousness, and heart. There are two publications I read every day: the NY Times and design*sponge. It’s articles like yours today that make me a committed reader. I dearly wish publications for women didn’t feel like they need to check their analytical intelligence at the door.

    • alethea

      thanks. it’s a tough line because this particular community (design and craft) often acts as if criticism or analysis is inherently a negative thing. but it’s that sort of self-reflexive examination and self-improvement that keeps a community bettering itself. i absorb negative feedback on a regular basis and as hard as it is, i know it makes me a stronger person and makes me work so much harder. i hope (and know) this community can embrace learning from each other and support each other through situations like this and find a way to really learn and grow from it.


  • Very well said, Ms Design Sponge. I wish I had known about how to talk to reporters when I was a young performer beginning to do interviews. It took me a long time to understand that it is NEVER a conversation and is always transactional on both parts. I was never good at it.

    I’d also like to point out that the NYT article is consistent with the general tone of the last decade or so—-competition and money. Follows our society. The Arts section should be renamed The Movie Finances Section. It exhausts me…..

    • hi guys

      I wanted to publish a brief update: I’m working with a journalist to post a special Biz Ladies post this coming Tuesday about positive Media Training for young women running businesses. stay tuned for some helpful tips….

      Grace :)

  • Grace, this was very well written. It is true that print publications don’t fully trust the validity of blogs as good sources, but, I’ve seen firsthand that this is slowly changing. It is difficult to weed out the blogs that clearly have been produced with as much detail and care as a print publication (like Design Sponge!) from the ones that, as I’m sure you’ve seen, are more interested in blathering into the blogosphere. And I heartily agree with you on the lack of editing in the new wave of online magazines. I’ve been aware of this for a long time that this is something that not many others notice. And part of this is probably because of my journalism background (and yours, too, I’m sure). I think these online publications do need to step it up. Basically, I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciated your well-rounded response.

  • Here’s an insane idea — why do women have to “play nice” and support one another at all? Is Steve Ballmer inviting Steve Jobs out for coffee? (Well — he might now.) My point is that you can certainly respect the competition… but all these bloggers are, after all, competing for generally the same ad dollar. And yes, if I were the editor of Lonny, I might be a bit put out at all the people following in her wake.

    As a bestselling author who has had her books/ideas knocked off a dozen times, I focus on what I do best, and keep looking for my best idea… all the best writers/editors do this. After all the knockoffs, there is only one Chanel suit, after all.

    On a separate note, I find that there is a lot of intellectual/visual laziness on the part of some of the online mags. Just because you call yourself an “editor” (and all your readers tell you what a great job you are doing) does not make you one.

    • pamela,

      your initial assertion about fighting for the same ad dollar is the idea i’m actually arguing is no longer true. advertisers buy spots in multiple places, not just one. i see the same companies advertising in all these online mags (with the same ad creative) so i feel strongly that there IS a difference between the way people need to compete these days. your readers are getting free content so they don’t have to pick only one or two to read, they can read them all. the same goes for most major advertisers, they usually split up their ad buy into several places, not just one.

      i’m not saying we all need to be best friends- that’s not realistic with so many different personalities in the community. but when you’re part of a group that is so often marginalized, it is important to recognize that it may be more valuable to work together than it is to tear each other down to get ahead. to tina fey’s point, competition is healthy (and drives creativity and progress) but when you see each other as the enemy you can often feed into what i see as a frequent negative portrayal of women as catty, inexperienced business people.


  • I haven’t read each and every one of the comments, but I wanted to mention one thing that struck me about the article. Who is it that really cares about the fact that the majority of online design content is created by people without the proper “credentials”? The traditional design world. Who really cares whether these e-zines are the creation of someone with a gazillion years in the publishing industry or three years writing a blog? The traditional print media. These people need to take their heads out of the sand and wake up to this fabulous groundswell of wonderful talent that may NOT have had a chance to be recognized 10 years ago via the very closed world of design magazine publishing. These design blogs/e-zines are being consumed because they’ve struck a chord with the average design junkie; a chord that the most educated designer, and the most senior magazine editor seems unable to hear. Readership and subscription is the only validation or legitimacy required. If the content is bad, a blog/e-zine won’t be read…simple. Making the players look like they’re a group of ditsy, catty, under-educated ingénues is just wrong (even if they were provided with interview fodder), and further emphasizes the undercurrents of nastiness splitting the design and now the design media universe into “us” and “them”.

    You’re doing a phenomenal job bringing these issues to the forefront.

  • Grace – just wanted to say thanks for your thoughtful response to my comment. Trad and online media unite!

  • I can’t say how much I appreciate the perspective of women in business like Grace (Carla Thompson at Sharp Skirts also comes to mind) who are determined to change the focus of this entire issue AWAY from gender (cattiness, emotion, attractiveness, motherhood) and inject it with real hardcore business sense. Tackling the “how” of media relations, the quality of content, insight into online advertising competition, etc, etc are all real, substantive, HELPFUL lines of thought. There’s no taking of sides or catering to the popular kids. Nor was there a kneejerk reaction to protect online content vs. traditional media. I truly believe the successful women among us are the ones asking the tough questions and listening to the answers whether it fits their aesthetic, social or emotional preferences. This is HARD work that cannot be glossed over with packaging and “swoony-ness”. We can do that WITHOUT hurting each other or becoming masculine. The success of D*S is great proof of that mentality resulting in both a successful online presence and business model.

  • I wholeheartedly agree with your article! One of my favourite quotes is “You don’t have to put out someone else’s light in order for your’s to shine”. Women particularly (in some of my experiences), and I am a woman, need to be reminded of that!

  • I hardly ever “read” anything on the web anymore, but I thoroughly processed each and every word of this! To your point, “people will read as much as they want, as long as it’s interesting.”

    I salute you in your drive to put the content back in content!

  • I, too, read the article and commented on the cattiness I felt. I am still unclear as to whether it was the voice of the reporter or the voice of the women interviewed. What I will say is that I am not one of the “young” designers and writers out there. I am old (59) and seasoned and worked hard in the 70’s to change the way women in business were treated and perceived. Over the years I have experienced my share of rude comments from an all male team to being paid less than my male counterparts but have also been pleased with how that seems to still be slowly improving. However, it appears to be our nature to be just a bit catty when it comes to competiton and running a business.

    I heard you speak, Grace, at the Design Bloggers Conference and was so impressed with your professional demeanor, your enthusiasm and your knowledge. This reponse to the NY Times article clearly shows that again. Please, as women let’s try to behave as men in the workforce when it comes to discussing our competition, running our businesses, our professionalism etc. Men do not carry grudges, they do not snark about their competitors work…they just try to do it better and beat them out fairly and squarely. (most of the time)

    Online or print, blog or magazine…the real issue is how we as women treat each other in business and how we conduct ourselves in business.

    Well said, Grace

  • The “bottle of green liquid” (which I immediately assumed was some kind of detergent) and “doing a cleanse” — that was just icky. I’m surprised that any reporter OR editor would have kept that in the article, but let that be a lesson to us all!

    • bonnie

      to me that line was such a quintessentially nyc line. the blueprint cleanse is such an incredibly trendy thing to do (i fell into that trend myself) that i felt like such a “nyc moment” to me, good or bad.


  • Grace, thank you for taking the time to post such a thoughtful and honest response to the NYT piece. I was left with a strange taste in my mouth after reading it and you’ve nailed exactly why. You are so right about bloggers needing to keep this point in mind – “Internet “fame” is tempting but fleeting.” It’s unfortunate how many people have to started to sacrifice the quality of what they put out there on their own domains in order to try to make a name for themselves on other “bigger” sites. It only serves to alienate the loyal fans and readers who got them to where they are to begin with.

  • Right on Grace. I couldn’t agree more about the lack of editing in these online magazines. It has put me off them completely. No online magazine should be 200 pages. None. I don’t care how pretty the pictures are. If I’m coming to you for design advice, and you can’t even curate your own vehicle, you are not going to go into my little black book (or folder of tabs) as a trusted resource.

  • Such a prompt, cohesive and thoughtful response presenting ideas to which you have obviously given much thought even before writing this article.

    Grace, you seem to be trying to find an ethical philosophy for both your professional and personal life…please don’t give up! Your success proves that it is not impossible to do business in a way that is both profitable and allows you to like yourself when you look in the mirror.

    That said, there does seem to be room for improvement for those writing in the online world. You are right about the need for editing. There are also too many grammatical and spelling errors and a need for correct word usage. Sometimes it can be “part of the charm” demonstrating the writer’s naivete and lack of pretense, but more often it reflects a too-hurried, too quickly published piece (cache/cachet is an example in your article). In all truth, this problem is increasingly evident in the print media too.

    In response to Pamela’s “play nice” comment…there are many men who “play nice” and find success. Why emulate anyone who doesn’t regardless of gender?

    Grace, my guess is that many, many people agree with Jess…they like you!!! Nothing wrong with that!!

  • Grace, your piece is extremely thoughtful and gracious in the best way. (And I happen to be in the middle of Bossypants.) I, too, subscribe to a win-win approach to business and life as much as possible. I know so many people who love d*s for all of the reasons put forth in the comments above – it’s relevant, clever, well done, smart.
    It would be wonderful if everyone who puts out a blog or emag could do so with their own point of view, holding to a high editorial standard and with original content. But aren’t there a finite number of hours in the day for readers to read? And don’t most blogs update several times a day? Isn’t it logical that the best, most easily read, lively and beautifully presented blogs or ezines will get the greatest number of readers? And that advertisers will naturally migrate to those sites?
    Ultimately I think you’re right, content is everything. Media is definitely being reinvented right now, it is fascinating to watch it going forward.

  • The ladies come off as catty? How about the NYT? I love the NYT, but they seem so out of touch here – yikes!

    Thanks for your intelligent & well thought-out response.

  • Reading all of this makes me really sad. First of all I really think their “tone” was not that bad. This post seems like you are using the NY times article as an excuse to go and make fun of all the online design magazines. Seems like this has been bundled inside of you for a while now. You say that *There is a distinct lack of editing happening, despite titles like “Editor in Chief” being used..did you look at your own re-design of your website and edit it? The spiral fabric thread image is badly photo-shopped and cropped poorly. The quality isn’t that great either. Load time is really slow too. The grid design is off and it seems like your ads are running the site more than your content! Isn’t this supposed to be a design friendly website…that promotes good and clean design? You should really reconsider in redesigning this whole website because it is not what I expected! I am a mother of three that has little background in design but I know a lot about user experience and I am not happy. Sorry if this offended you but it’s not fair for editors to go around giving their own criticism but they fail to look at their own work.

  • I must be the only one that thinks many of these online shelter magazines are very high schooli-ish and amateur.

    I tired quickly of Domino because each issue had the same look and nearly same sort of design. These online shelter magazines are the same. They also mostly copied the layout of Domino.

    And do they even edit them? So many mistakes from month to month. There is nothing groundbreaking about any of these online publications at all. They just happen to be online and not in print. Big deal. I find myself looking at the pictures, but rarely read the articles.

    I’m curious to see how the dust settles and which one falls first and which one becomes profitable.

    Already the “matchbook girl does such and such” is getting old. The Rue girls and their little parties come off as sorority chicks. There is a certain tone that needs to be set online and none of them are doing it correctly.

  • well said. i was excited to read that NYT article because I really like those online publications, but then I walked away disappointed and you’ve articulate so well what that disappointment was. and wise words about reporters — i’m sure some of those quotes weren’t meant to sound the way that they did, but they still cast a shadow. thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • In the art world, print media would be sculpture and blogs would be performance art (more fluid, responsive relationship with readers). Compelling bloggers like Grace Bonney are like Marina Abramovic. And this list of comments reflects the audience lined up out the door waiting to participate. I’m happy we have both and the choice to interact with each in different ways.

  • Grace –
    I am so impressed – you articulated a well-written and thoughtful response (and so quickly!) that touches on many of the points that ran through my mind when I read the NYT article. As a women in business (Marketing) who tries to encourage collaboration not competition among my staff of young women, I was saddened to feel that age-old agenda leaking out from the NYT article.

    One of the things I like best about D*S (and they are so many I like) is the sense of authencity I get from you in your desire to promote, not cut-down, other women entrepreneurs.

    I hope you keep fighting the good fight!


  • Grace, I’m so looking forward to the Biz Ladies post on media training. As a young(ish) woman starting a business that spans the design and tech worlds I’ve found myself having to be especially careful about how I present myself to the world. It’s not ever something I thought especially hard about but I’m learning from trial and error how crucial it really is. I’ve found that people in tech as well as design think in very black and white competitive terms and it’s hard not to fall into that. To be both strong and assertive as well as kind and positive takes mindfulness.

  • I have always noticed and appreciated your supportive ‘voice’ on D*S. I find it enriches my life in a a lovely spiritual way (and I speak as a cynical Englishwoman who doesn’t like to admit to such things!).

    I too was inspired by your excellent post. You are an excellent writer an excellent editor and an excellent person. Thank you also for the Riot Grrl book reference.
    Ella x

  • Competition between women should not be uniformly characterized as “catty” – it’s a competitive world out there and women compete with women as well as with men. The online shelter magazine “industry” is in its infancy and it is unlikely to sustain too many entries over time. The entreprenuers written about in the NYTimes article would be crazy to NOT be looking over their shoulders at one another because they will not all survive. Lonny was focused on in the NYTimes article because it was the first of its type. Clearly Michelle Adams is a hard worker who has certainly produced – although it was unfortunate that neither she nor the NYTimes reporter gave enough credit to either Mr. Cline or, quite frankly, her parents. The specious mythology that she whipped up Lonny with a mere $1000 does not take into account the value of the free photography contributed by Mr Cline (with whom she had a personal relationship) nor having her personal expenses covered by the Bank of Mom and Dad. Neither is any credit – or value – attributed to her quite capable but very young CEO with whom she has also had a personal relationship. The staff consists largely of people who have worked for very little money or are interns. None of this would matter if Lonny was not being publicized as a rags-to-riches story magically created by Ms Adams. Which also suggests that if Lonny or its dilletante ilk are the future of shelter magazines … well then, there’s not much of a future.

  • Grace,
    You did a fantastic job articulating your thoughts about the NYT piece. After reading their article, I had to take a deep breath and collect my thoughts. I’m relatively new to the blogging world but have been obsessed with magazines since I was very young. While I appreciate what these online publications are doing, I still love the feel of a hard copy in my hand. My personal opinion is that the NYT comes off poorly in this article because they seem to be threatened by these online publications. At least, that’s how I interpreted the vibe they gave to this article. Much like an “expert” movie critic turning up his/her nose at a people-pleaser movie like The Notebook (judge me all you want- I love that movie!), the NYT seems to be looking down on blogs and online magazines. The only logical excuse for behavior like that? It threatens the NYT way of life and the print world, so they’re going to criticize it. Evolution happens, especially in publishing. Let’s get over our petty jealousies and opinions about print/online and just support and enjoy quality work!

  • It wasn’t just the Times that came off in a dismissive way, the former boss (an editor at a defunct print mag) did as well. I agree with a lot of your analysis but there is a part of me that also believes that these women may not have all been victims of the mean old NY Times. Is it possible that the Lonny editor did intend to be catty and sarcastic? I’d venture to guess yes. The competition aspect is a natural occurrence in any business. We do live in a capitalist society afterall. Plus, who do you know who unlimited time to read everything in the longtail, plus print mags, newspapers, TV news/shows, and still have time for a life/family/friends/gym/sleep. We are in a severe info-overload society. Yes, 50 or 5000 design mags can and have the right to exist, but I don’t have the time or inclination to read everything. I am guilty of only wanting and needing the Top X amount that I am willing/able to consume. So yes, there is some means of narrowing down to be expected. What’s wrong with wanting to be #1?

  • Wow, I agree completely, except that I really didn’t think the original article was trying to project anything. (I think the interviewees gave plenty of fodder and the writer most likely just wrote what he heard.) I saw what your article was about, and figured you might be totally defending everyone, but I think you were very honest.

    I enjoy reading the online magazines, but honestly, they do not yet have the quality of writers they need. Some of the articles have great topics, yet are so dry. I sometimes sigh that there are 200 pages to go through (instead of being all excited) because it feels like a chore to finish. And the Issu format is just annoying, although obviously, there aren’t that many alternatives out there.

    But I’m going to read Bossypants now. I have always believed in healthy competition, but I think there is a very typical unhealthy “male” type of competitiveness that my boss displayed when he told me that he expected a coworker (male) and me to “claw and fight each other to be promoted.” The male coworker and I were like, uh, no (which proves that even though I call it male, it’s not all men–and there are definitely women who employ the same way of thinking). However, I saw someone’s comments about how young, inexperienced men are given more respect, and I don’t think it’s because they are men–I think it’s because they have made an obscene amount of money. If these women are making obscene amounts of money, it doesn’t seem that way, which could be female reticience.

    Anyway, fascinating response, Grace.

  • And yes, I agree with other comments that certain online magazines have definite personalities, which is to be expected and could be good. However, one came off as so “insider joke with my girlfriends” that I stopped reading it. I mean, I’m glad the editor has good friends, but I’m not reading a design magazine to hear about how the editor and her friends.

  • AND (I promise I’ll shut up now), the fact that the publications themselves were so excited to be in the NY Times is pretty telling that they probably said those quotes and still don’t get how they sounded, so I think that’s a pretty strong argument that their quotes were not twisted or edited with some malice aforethought.

  • I only began my career in publishing, but took from it a desire for clarity (I’m of the school that believes a good writer can make understandable and interesting any subject matter) and critical thinking (many journalists seem to limit the frame of the questions they are asking). This is part of the reason why I enjoyed this post so much, it was interesting and has led to further questioning.
    To my mind, the medium is not as important as the quality of the message, and I think that an educated reading audience will find compelling sources regardless of the medium. Current talk of medium is all the rage because it is new, everyone wishes to play the prophet, but ultimately, I think it is quality that lasts, no matter how it is put across.
    But I am actually writing because I was inspired by some of the offshoot questions, particularly those about representing people from different cultures. While I understand that this would mean that the “voice” of the publication would potentially change, I would like to argue that this could be a more competitive type of change, in the sense that it creates more space for changes in the market.
    As a North American expat who has lived abroad almost all of my life, I have seen a variety of especially talented people who would fit in very well with certain US design sensibilities, but who flounder for not having an appropriate audience, because the US is still ahead in terms of consumer aesthetics (i.e. the market appreciates clever things). But I think that part of the strength of the US market is its cultural diversity, seen or unseen. The problem is that it is becoming harder for talented designers to manage import laws and customs duties, and such small things can really put a wrench in healthy exchange. The strength of the internet is that it has the potential to be international, which is why I think that online publications ought to examine this potential.
    So, while not changing one’s voice to accommodate a heteroglossia, and while remaining true to the d*s aeshtetic, maybe there could be a round-up of those designers with compelling web pages – that would include those of different cultural backgrounds and from different countries.
    I have not edited this extended comment, mea culpa :)

  • when I first glanced at the post, I thought to myself “wow. this is long.” and it is long but so engrossing. your thoughts on this subject was spot on and very insightful. the article did come across as being combative and catty, and the quotes were probably taken out of context but one can’t be certain of that. all in all, you make some wonderful points in your essay. we should stick together and support each other rather than rip our “competitors” apart. there have been and will be many artists who have flourished together, each providing what the other may not give. that’s what makes competition great, you each have something different to offer and allow the audience to choose for themselves what they deem best from you can offer through your specialty or expertise. if we all did the same thing then where would he fun be.

    at the beginning I had my doubts about the direction of the new online mags, I was excited for someone to tap the market where domino had left off. this didn’t mean I wanted someone to be a doppleganger of the mag itself but rather a publication that will cover the grounds left unwatched. in the past two years there have been some good articles here and there and I hate to compare, but nowhere close to where domino and blueprint. definitely it is an unfair comparision but this goes back to the issue of marketing. I had been under the impression or at least informed that this would have been the case. it has been rather disappointing so far. a lot of the time, these mags have seemed to a lengthy blog post. the longer the article it seems, the less content and more fluff. I agree on the note about vincent wolfe. the lack of exclusivity renders the orginal content pointless. there is nothing special about an interview if it will be repeated elsewhere in a matter of weeks.

    also an issue I have with the lot of the online publication is the lack of editing in both content and design. the rambling articles fall on deaf ears after a while and poor design and layout makes it difficult to read. I have been frustrated many times attempting to read the text on a page that was printed too small. having to constantly zoom in and zoom out of an article while avoiding clicking onto the links becomes a burden and I lose interest quickly. also the writer made a valid point that just about anyone can be labeled as a design inspiration. sure, there are many out there whose style and aesthetic are interesting and fresh, but when you throw someone into the mix just because you know them and they want to be featured does not make them interesting. also another issue about the design, there is a few of the publicati0ns that look like something that a high school graphic design slapped together. actually that might be too much credit given. if you are going to put the time together to write a magazine, at least bring someone on to make it look good. packaging is important. I don’t know of how many magazines I’ve passed on due to their poor layout and design. we’re all savvy and smart consumers, give us something that says you recognize and appreciate that.

  • Hi Grace, when I saw the other comments I first thought there wasn’t much point commenting myself when there were so many similar thoughts already. Then I decided that even if no one read this it was another number added to the comments should the NYT writer pop over and see if anyone read or validated your response. So, here’s another positive comment for you!!!! Great article, many important tips for dealing with interviewers. Hopefully one day I have to deal with such situations :) I also liked your point about content being more important than titles. It doesn’t matter whether it comes from a blog, magazine or newspaper, good content is to be admired and poor writing can occur anywhere. Keep up the good work.

  • Although I’m not a design blogger and am not involved in the online design world except as a consumer, I read both the original article and your intelligent response with interest. I’d like to point out that the NYT already has a history of similar behavior in its reporting about so-called “mom blogs” (of which mine is one) that is lumping all of them together in one category; implying that the people who produce them are largely unprofessional or unqualified; and also encouraging spite in the community where none might exist otherwise. Like you and many of those commenting here, I think that this has more than a little to do with the fact that these publications are produced by women. I’d like that narrative to get old, but for now it seems that it’s alive and kicking.

    I’m not sure when or if the mainstream media will ever feel comfortable with self-published material, especially by women, but I can tell you that it enriches my life enormously and I’m so grateful for everyone who does it well. Like you.

  • I read the full article you pointed to, then read your post on here (in which you seemed to be sympathetic to the online magazines). THEN I went to the archives of Lonny, and lo and behold, there is Grace Bonney, on the 124th page of the Oct/Nov 2009 issue. There doesn’t appear to be disclosure of that on this blog post. Hmm…. gotta say, little shady Grace, lil shady.

    That said, I took a look at the Lonny magazine (had never seen it before today). I mean, the pictures and content are nice, but I found myself just flipping through the pages and not really inspired by anything. When I get my Dwell in the mail every month, I pour over that thing for hours. I keep them in a stack in my living room and randomly flip them open to look at them. Nothing like that really grabbed me in the Lonny mag. I think maybe you’re right in your assessment that they need better editing. However, I do like the concept. Domino’s gone (RIP) but maybe this more cost-effective way of producing magazines will allow for the Dominos of the future to be produced… if this idea weren’t around, maybe those people would never take a shot.

    • marla

      yes, i’ve been featured in both lonny. i’ve also been featured the new york times- i don’t think it effects my ability to comment on either.


  • Holy Moses, Grace.
    You had a busy day!
    Thank Goodness It’s Friday!

    Thank you for your commitment to providing us with your knowledge, opinions and continued follow- up! Knowledge is power and this forum of people communicating here can only help improve our media environment- regardless of how we receive it. {blogs, online, offline, mags, newspapers, etc.}

    Enjoy the weekend- you’ve had a busy,busy week.

  • I really liked your post (yes, I read every word) because I was reading the article this morning and I have to say that I felt a bit disappointed.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas.

  • Wow, just now heard this discussion was going on and turned off “500 Days of Summer” to catch up (that’s saying a lot; I love that movie). I literally gasped when I read Michelle Adams’ quote and commented to someone else “wow, they really screwed Michelle in this article.” Having finished Bossypants a month or so ago, I really liked the way you tied Tina’s comments to your review. I had not even thought of that. The main thing I came away from the article thinking about was virtual cliques. There has always been a sense of cliquishness to the design blog world, and it seems to have carried to the ‘zines a bit, which brings me back full circle to “Queen Bees and Wannabes” which Tina Fey translated into a movie for us. Your comments also made me think about Dominque Browning’s book about life after H&G, which I found to be so enlightening about the publishing world.

    I also came away shaking my head about yet ANOTHER Times article that missed the point. I’ve been a huge Times fan for years, and down here in Georgia, we have to shell out more and more bucks for it as the content gets thinner and thinner. I feel like their editing leaves a lot to be desired lately in the Lifestyle sections. An article a few weeks ago about Chelsea Handler was literally the worst, most pointless, un-researched, un-framed piece I’ve read in a long time. I remember thinking “she should stick to her little runway articles on Sundays” I’m not trying to be catty, it’s just honestly what I thought, but maybe that is the kind of comment I should censor? Hmmm…Anyway, I was also thinking “God I miss Bob Morris. And Randy Cohen. And Deborah Soloman. And that Michelle woman who used to write “mother/worker/something or other/spy.” But I digress.

    I do appreciate that online magazines do not have to edit so tightly. While I think many of them are not edited enough, and that I’ve seen enough chic little retro bar cart set ups for one lifetime, there is a balance between the cut-throat Anna Wintour style of editing and the” more is more is more is more!” state of some online magazines. The fact that they CAN have more is one thing that distinguishes them from print publications. Another distinguishing thing is when they put their design blog savvy to work and rather than chasing designers who have already had their share of Elle Decor covers, they feature those who are a bit more off-the-beaten-path and undiscovered.

  • Honestly, I do not read NY Times often, but I assumed they were sophisticated. The lesson is that no matter the reputation of the publication, we have to be careful of what we say to reporters. I have had a couple of printed comments I regret; a result of lack of preparation and not thinking how what I said could be interpreted in print.

    Also, I am glad the topic of reigning in e-publishing and pursuing higher standards is being addressed. I hope some day that blogs and online magazines will meet the librarian test — that they will be a credible source for research. In addition to solid interesting edited content, can we have fact checking too, please?

  • My only issue with your response would be the statement “[Y]ounger women, as content producers and business owners, need to take greater control over how we are presented and how we present ourselves.”
    This is true for all women, perhaps for all folks who use the internet to communicate with and reach an audience. For younger women, familiar with modern technology, the internet may be an initial experience with presentation. For older woman the internet is a new vehicle for the practiced experience of presentation. Kind of evens itself out, and points out how much greater the polished presence of women on the internet will be by working together across generations.
    I greatly appreciate your graciousness, sense of responsibility, humanity, solidarity and willingness to engage in this conversation.

  • Grace,

    Great rrsponse! I was questioning how the online magazines featured on the NYT article were celebrating. I love all of them and also think there’s space for different voices.

    I’m glad that Lonny magazine issued a video response. As a lifestyle blogger myself and PR professional one thing is clear NEVER EVER Believe that there is such thing as off the record!

  • Hi Grace

    I have to agree with you on all that you have pointed out to us in this post, but with that said I have to commend these young women. They may not have Ivy League educations or the right requirements to work at the so called “Big” publishing houses, but they have courage and vision. They have taken their passion and have found a way through new technology to bypass the publishing hierarchy to do what they could have only dreamed about before. That is the beauty of the internet. I am a bit older and remember well when Martha Stewart first hit the scene. She was criticized, made fun of, and people talked negatively about her in every way possible. She had a vision that made a few men nervous. She kept doing it her way and created an empire. She had no real background in design or cooking – only passion. I see the same thing happening with these online magazines. They are successful no matter how you look at it and they are making the guys at the top of the traditional publishing world a little nervous. Perhaps this article and your response to it here will show these young trailblazers that they do need to become better editors. It is a little wake up call for them to now come down from the clouds and become a bit more professional in their approach to their publications.

  • “It killed me to read that pull quote …” Yeah. The fame one, and the one about how she found the format first and now all the kids are using it. Did she create Issuu? If not, her attitude is like me finding Movable Type first, and then complaining that all the bloggers are using it. Yeesh. Plus all that came back on her with the ‘media mogul’ stab. Nice.

    I am definitely not in the target market for these magazines. I’m not jumping into each new issue for the reasons you state – reading them SUCKS. Why can’t I click on a link for a product to open in a new tab and still stay in the mode where I can actually read the text? Why can’t the page spread be bigger to begin with? The full screen mode is too in-my-face, and finally, I don’t want to have to read this stuff at my computer. (… I’m a ways from iPad or similar territory – but nobody wants to talk about the economy and the under/unemployed)

  • Thanks so much for taking the time to respond to this article. I am a lover of magazines. But I have found some articles in online mags to be too loosely edited. Thanks for your insight and opinion.
    Grace, you are strong and assertive in a positive mindful way. That is an amazing ability.
    Thank you

  • Reading this article in the Times actually made me interested enough in these kinds of new lifestyle publications to finally check them out. I’d seen plenty of, as you say, hype about them—but nothing that grabbed me. You summarized my gut feeling well: these were outlets that prized packaging over content. That’s just not enough to get me to turn virtual pages.

    I found myself nodding a number of times while reading your post, Grace. I agree with you most, though, when you say that these would be great blogs—why force the sprawling content into pseudo-print format? And you’re right about the need to pare things down. Yes, online space is cheap, but pages and pages of the same slightly curated material works against any kind of brand one might be trying to build. I appreciate that you joined these two friendly critiques. I’m happy to read tons and tons of content and view dozens of photos on a blog. I’m not so happy to do that when I have to turn the pages (hard copy or electronic).

    Now I need to go back and read all these thoughtful comments from D*S readers!

  • Dear Editor:
    Thank you for the content and look and features and scope of Design*Sponge. I really enjoy your daily updates, especially after most days filled with “serious” stuff from every imaginable platform, including the face-to-face real world. Your consistent professionalism and the Design*Sponge voice are most appreciated. And, I must say, the access to and exchanges with others out there blogging/contributing/commenting are a wonderful melding of the close-up and personal, with connection to a wonderfully optimistic, life-appreciating wider world.

    I did see the New York Times piece in my Bay Area edition. I was excited by the headline, put it aside for a leisurely later look … and was then bored by the content.

    As a Domino fan — it was my only shelter publication subscription — I hope that life can move on and all those who contributed are given a chance to grow from there, as you suggest in your thoughtful rebuttal piece.

    Meanwhile, thank you.

    A public awareness expert for nonprofits
    Well past her 20’s, who …
    Enjoys the added scope/opportunities from evolving new+old media
    Tries to reach a hand back to help others coming up … as you — and your most substantial/growing audience — clearly do.

  • I hardly ever comment here but wanted to leave a brief response today and say that you summed up the article and it’s flaws brilliantly.
    I strongly feel the changing wind in media – traditional and digital, and as such there will be storms to that we need to ride out and also learn to master.
    I must say that I didn’t mind the critical eye the article took but was really appalled by the undertone. Did I sense bitterness, envy, jealousy..? Not sure, but there was something more than a ‘tone’ and it wasn’t pretty. It felt ill-fitted for an iconic title like the NYT to take this approach and I must say that I, like so many others expect more of them.
    Though some of the quotes may have come across as ‘catty’, I think the article overall lost in the end.. These girls are – as the article pointed out – very young. The NYT isn’t..

    Thank you for this.

    x Charlotta

  • I’m an Interior Designer and was originally put off my all the online “Designers” claiming to be experts in the field without any formal education. But as my career has developed, I’ve realized that there’s room for all types of designers and thus all types of voices via design blogs and online magazines. I do think that it is important as an online magazine and blog reader to know where the content is coming from, especially with reference to how you chose to use it.

    I terms of bloggers, I consider myself to be one of them, I think that the “fame” thing is a bit outrageous though. I really only started blogging to share some of my finds with my friends back home and then noticed that a few people were starting to follow what I’ve written. My favorite part of blogging is starting a dialogue about the posts that I’ve done. To me it’s not really about “fame”, but more about sharing your thoughts with more people so that there can be more discussion. Being a newbee to new york, I don’t know a lot of fellow designers and welcome the online forums to be part of the dialogue in design.

  • Just a quick “me too” note to say that this was really well-written, interesting, and thoughtful. This topic of women “woman-haters” has been coming up a lot lately on line, in a variety of industries. I also sort of maliciously enjoy watching traditional media talk down to web media, because it reminds me of old folks in the 1960s pretending like the crazy youngsters would stop all of this crazy change and tomfoolery when they grew up. You can either be an agent of change or wake up covered in dust…..

  • Hi Grace,

    Thanks for posting this response. The article was interesting, but your insights and the coverage of some issues unique to bloggers were helpful.

    I can completely relate to Tina Fey’s observation that women are competing for a perceived limited number of spaces. We feel threatened and treat each other with less respect as a result. I’ve had this knee jerk reaction once or twice, and the internal guilt was worse than the threat of losing traffic or readership. Then I read on the blog of a more experienced blogger exactly what you mentioned, that bloggers and readers are in it for all sorts of reasons, and there’s room for each of them. I try to live by that now.

    The issue of duplicated content has several reasons for it, in my view. Firstly, a lot of bloggers, may not have professional experience in the media industry, or generally, don’t possess the talent for creating unique editorial content. Also, many blogging styles, wedding blogging for example, rely heavily on submissions, which aren’t easy to come by if you are new to blogging and there are more desirable venues for photographers, designers and industry pros to showcase their talents. Also, many bloggers hope their blogs will make too much money, too soon, and so, they need content, whereever it comes from. Another reason is that for creatives, traditional modes of media still rule, and a press feature in martha stewart, NYT, or vogue are still more desirable than blogger or e-zine accolades. This might also contribute to the lack of distinguished voices in the e-zine industry. The desparation to post, and post anything, makes them less discerning about what message they want to convey.

    Not that I am happy you’ve been disrespected, but it helps to know that I’m not the only blogger who’s had to deal with disrespect before. I took it to heart, and really felt it had to do with the fact that I am simply not big enough or talented enough to be in the industry. It took a huge hit on my self-esteem, and for a while, I really stopped having faith in my blogging or my ability. Knowing that it’s just a growing pain of an industry that is new is so helpful.

  • Hi Grace, I think your essay was a great response, and even more importantly, a refreshing message to young women in our current media culture, which has become so vacuous and sensationalist that even the NYT has been infected. Sometimes I wonder if Feminism even happened, when most of the women we see, from political candidates to reality stars, seem to pander to the exact stereotypes women of previous generations worked so hard to eradicate. Even many design writers seem to feel compelled to package themselves to fit female cliches of “girly,” “bubbly,” “sexy,” “chic.” At the same time pop culture celebrates people who have no discernible accomplishments, talent or even appeal—no wonder that some young people assume work, sacrifice, paying dues and wisdom are not prerequisites for success.

    I was initially really excited when all these online magazines began, since I SO miss my print mags, including big bursts of content all at once, as opposed to the steady drip of blogs. Unfortunately, they all seem to suffer from the same lack of vision and just terrible writing. Even when the photos are serious, the tone of the articles tend to be so breathless and fawning that they come off as ridiculous to anyone over the age of 30. Or in my case, over 35! There is a distinct lack of critical distance or journalistic integrity—it’s like design is a popularity contest won by the highest percentage of flattery.

    One additional thought: having worked briefly in the interior design world, in very broad work history that spans many creative fields, including food, art, web design, etc—the interior design industry does seem to have a *particularly* bitchy sensibility. Maybe it’s the competition or the desperate social climbing (both clients and designers), but there seems to be a level of phoniness and backbiting that eclipses anything I’ve experienced in 15+ years in the NY art world, which is not exactly nursery school. Add a general lack of respect for the profession from outsiders to the issues you discussed about women in the media, and it’s no wonder that any article about young female design writers would paint them as superficial sorority girls. So it is up to all of us to act with the utmost professionalism, dignity, competence, generosity and classiness. I guess those are old fashioned values but I think the ENTIRE world, not just the design world, would benefit from a resurgence in those exact qualities.

    Congratulations on all your success and integrity in what you do!

  • I read your response before the NY Times piece and I have to say that I just didn’t really see your concerns. There was a sarcastic or snippy comment or two. But I felt like the story was balanced. It described the rise of these magazines, explained who was producing them, and talked about their strengths and weaknesses. I didn’t see any bias here.

    I think we need to remember that we read all media through our own biases. If you already think that the traditional media doesn’t take online publications seriously, then it’s easy to see that in a story.

    But the NY Times doesn’t have any obligation to be kind to online magazines, blogs or other sites. I felt like this story was just covered like the Times might cover anything else.

    But maybe I missed something or was expecting worse because I read the response first.

  • Loved your response. I had read the original article and was disappointed in the kind of snarky tone of voice. I started an online magazine on 9-09-09 called The DECOpolitan geared to interior decorators and stagers. We are not big business like the others but love how we can help our industry. I also appreciate what you said, in a pre-dominantly female industry, I have encountered my share of mean girls BUT I have had the pleasure of meeting many more wonderful, caring, and sharing women, both competitors and peers. Bottom line, it is a big world out there, and I want mine filled with people who appreciate that we are blessed to create beautiful spaces for wonderful people on a daily basis. I am proud that what I do touches other people’s lives in an intimate way. Thank you again for reminding the world that although we may at times have different ways of approaching something, kindness and respect should be common place.

  • hey grace-
    i completely agree with you, and i think what the ny times article is completely missing the mark on is that domino, apartment therapy, and your blog spoke to a completely different constituency than traditional print magazines. traditional print magazines were aspirational; they rotated among showing the work of a few high-level interior designers working with limitless budgets among elite clients. although the interiors they showed were beautiful, they followed the same model as high fashion magazines. nothing was necessarily meant for real-life application.
    the resurgence of interior design among young people has thus been the result of a few innovators who were more interested in real homes; in making homes more functional and beautiful despite limitations in budget, resources, and time. and while the online magazines referenced in the article also follow this model, they’re not necessarily innovative, and they are also speaking to the same constituency: young people who are tech savvy and significant consumers of online material. thus it’s wrong to assume that they would in any way replace blogs; if anything, they serve as a supplement (although, admittedly, i don’t find the layout of online magazines very user friendly and have never gotten into them).
    i also find it highly irritating that a young lady who blatantly ripped off the style and content of her past employer is behaving as though she’s an innovator in her field.

  • grace, am really glad you took the time to write a strong response to the NYT article. so much of what you said resonated because, as you know, i worked in print magazines for nearly two decades before i became a designer. my thoughts…… it’s curious to me that there’s this big dividing line between print and online (read: we’re better, you’re not) because in trying to find freelance magazine work the fact that i had done so little online writing was always an issue. good writing is good writing, i don’t see the difference….. re: editing. damn straight. because i was raised in the tri-state, the NYT is my go-to paper. even though they’re out of touch: last week, a piece about hiring a household staff. yes, really. as i go through my daily reading rituals i’m faced with typo after typo and whole pieces that don’t make sense. the NYT is better than this, and there are far too many out of work editors/writers who should be fixing this. trust me when i tell you that even when i worked in tabloids i could have been fired for some of the “journalism” i’ve seen them produce. bad facts, bad–or no–editing. it just makes me cringe. i’ll admit i’m the first person to fill a screen with typos etc. i’m not publishing my words in a major publication so that’s ok. most of my typed words, these days, are extemporaneous…. bringing up another point someone else made, about having Q&A interviews published without any edits. are these editors editing? more so, i read things about myself in design blogs and wonder where they got their info, and why they were too lazy to email me. (naming my pieces by the names of their photos. laziness.) i’m quite approachable, so do it. i cannot tell you how many times i’ve been written about without even being told it was happening… re: reporters/writers taking quotes out of context. i’ve been in the place of having to ask subjects for more, more, more, something fresh and new, and feeling as though i were really crossing the line, ethically, in writing about them. this happens in small and large mags, and i’ve had it on the other side, having things i’ve said off the cuff become pull quotes. really, readers of xyz health magazine, i didn’t need america to know that i felt chubby in my underwear. lesson learned. but much of this does come from inside the publication, and from top editors, not just from the interviewers themselves. it’s not a good position to be in (them, not me. or me, when i was one of them)… re: women gouging out other women’s eyes. this is one thing about womens/shelter publishing that i do not miss, not at all. it’s disgusting, unnecessary, hurtful. there were many times at some magazines that i found myself crying in stairwells for attacks that i knew had nothing to do with the actual problem i was being taken to task for, but because i was competition/pretty/thin/etc. i am thankful that with few exceptions, the design crowd is a far more welcoming community. without taking a side about the UO debacle a few weeks ago, the indie artists banded together to protect one of their own. that says something about this group of people. ….. all in all, i do think there’s room for everyone out there. there’s always more time to click and look and read. for sites/mags that have lots of things to say and show, bring it on. otherwise, i’ll find another link to click. not everyone can do this successfully, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. just bring something new to the table! (and YOU always do, including your position on “breaking” new stories/products. i feel lucky when you write about me because i’ve often given you the info and then waited before i told anyone else, even if i could have had it all over the internet before then. the better design mags/blogs, like yours, constantly keep their quality content new…. kudos for writing this piece. (apologies for any grammar upsets or typos…)

  • While I agree with the points you make about women in business and how we are perceived, I am disappointed by your critique of the content and of the ability of the editors. In my opinion it took away from your message and came across as catty.

  • I agree with your well constructed points wholeheartedly. Though I think it should be noted that while the NYTimes is still for the most part a venerable news paper, their articles of late have been seriously lacking in substance. I can’t put my finger on when it actually happened, I lived in NYC for 8 years and am an avid reader of the publication, but the writing has been suffering for quite some time. These days the articles are not fully fleshed out and tend to be rather eye catchingly sensational, perhaps it’s a product of the times we live in but nonetheless it’s very dissapointing. The fact that they tried to lump all the web-publications into one homegenous glob was dissapointing enough, they are all quite distinct and different. I think that articles like this are written with a bit of schadenfraude involved. The mainstream media are feeling highly threatened these days, and with outlets like this perhaps they should be.

  • Grace, thank you for this! I agree that the content in these online mags all need some serious editing and I am glad you said it. Hopefully they will take your criticism to heart and reevaluate their publishing process. Content is KING, and whoever has the best content – exclusive content, concise editing, a unique voice, etc. (all of which you mentioned) – that product will win. If it’s a blog or a magazine, to me, is besides the point. If the readership and loyalty is there, then advertisers (and profits) will follow. I read your blog daily (and have done so for several years now) because the content is consistently good. I never feel like you’re wasting my time and I am getting content here that I can’t get anywhere else. So THANK YOU for putting quality content at the top of your priorities. It’s why we keep coming back.

    The print vs. web debate is one that has fascinated me for several years now. I disagree with you when you say traditional print media disregards the web as a source of quality content. I do think some old-school reporters have been slow to catch on to web publishing, and those individuals may look down on bloggers as illegitimate. I’m guessing you’ve had some experience with some of these individuals. But I think it stops there at the individual reporter. In general, print editors and publishers are well aware of the fact that they must have an online presence, and they must compete with other web content, or their publications will perish. And in this way, they definitely recognize the web as a major, if not THE main competitor for content, readership, and ad dollars. And that is legitimate. I have worked for a large traditional (print) media company for the last 5 years, and we know full well we’re in a tipping point, with major writing/editing talent, ad dollars, and readership moving online. And readers aren’t stupid- they can see good quality content, and publishers can see it too. If anything, I truly think some publishers are in some ways ‘jealous’ of bloggers like you, and would kill to have the kind of loyal readership you have earned. They are trying all sorts of strategies to better position themselves online, so they can compete. That is my perspective, from working in a traditional print company (and a conservative one at that.)

    And if you’re right and I’m wrong and traditional media is really writing off web content as illegitimate- well then we’ll see who wins! :) I’d bet on blogs like yours any day.

  • Grace, this is so well written and you hit every point on the head. I cringed my way through the article and really was concerned at the thanks given to the NYtimes for such an ungraciously written piece. I clicked through after reading the thanks to the article and was appalled. This isn’t the first time the blog world has been bitten by print. (Caitlin at Healthy tipping point had an unfortunate experience with Marie Claire magazine)

  • Hi Grace,

    Thank you for this article. I commend you for the composed manner in which you lay out your sadness and frustrations.

    I share many of your sentiments. I am a South African blogger, and a very new blogger at that. What I find frustrating in SA is that blogs are so under the radar. There are a few big/ popular blogs here, but many SAers read European or American blogs. In my experience blogs here just don’t have much credibility. If you tell people that you blog, they simply dismiss it. And the same few blogs are featured over and over by the print media.

    What I find difficult about blogging is the amount of time it requires. If you want to provide your readers with quality articles, that have been edited and re-edited you need a fair amount of time on your hands. Add to that images and photos- if you take and edit this yourself it takes even longer. If you have a full time job it is hard to keep up. But, I worry that if you take your time and post less frequently, you will not attract new readers. It is truly a conundrum for me.

    I have so much respect for bloggers like you guys at design*sponge and someone like Holly form decor8. It is because of years of hard work that you guys are so popular. You are inspirational to new bloggers like me.

    I am saddened that it is insinuated that blogs are any less valuable and important than print media. Blogs and online publications are instant. That is very powerful. I love the interaction between the authors and readers. It is impossible to get hold of print journalists, but on a blog you can simply send an affirming comment, make a suggestion or ask a quick question. It makes it so much more personal. I am of the firm belief that many of these online sites are of great value. I derive a lot of pleasure from receiving my daily newsletters. 

    And lastly, I can definitely relate to young women being treated poorly. I was a radio journalist and my middle aged, male boss treated me with disrespect and contempt and stated clearly that it was because of my age and gender. I did not feel the need to stay on and I have since forged my own path as a designer, writer and blogger. I believe that girls/women should support each other. We are all uniquely talented and creative. I wish that there could be a way that I could have more contact with other bloggers in my field that have recently started out, to hear what they have learnt.

    Thank you again for this response. I admire design*sponge and can only dream that my blog might one day be as successful.

  • This was a really interesting post, and I really like the way your more editorial-voiced posts are popping up. It’s kind of like the “Letter from the Editor” in certain magazines. Nice. : )

    Thinking of young women… and women in general…lately, since I’m about to turn 36, I have been thinking about my own age…how am I perceived as a woman?… and ok I’ll admit it, the dreaded “How long do I have???” What an awful way to think. I’ve been trying to find ways out of wondering if I have an expiration date…

    It’s true, young women aren’t given their due as business people, however I also think that older women are seen as ‘past their prime’ a lot of the time…and that scares me if I let it. I often wish there was more encouragement for all of us to grow, and to see beauty and also potential in that growth and experience…

    As someone trying to both run a business, and enjoy a creative, full, life, I suppose what I have started to do more consciously is look for others – all ages/types welcome – who are deeply involved in what they do, curious, and who have integrity, humility, and compassion in the way they communicate with their audience and each other.

    “Winning the competition” is what many are focused on, and it IS great to get that great press, or feel the warmth of the spotlight of the In Crowd. But you’re right…it’s not lasting or sustaining, ultimately. Deeper relationships, talents, expertise, virtuosity, and joy are…in a way it’s endurance and commitment that will create a successful online magazine, body of work, point of view…professional persona.

    I suppose it’s the difference between Winning…and Leadership. Both are worthwhile… But to lead, you don’t necessarily have to be in a race.

  • As a somewhat older woman with some old-fashioned tastes, I have to say I was very pleased to see such articulate writing, both from you, Grace, and your readers. Thankyou.
    The comments have remained civilised and fair even though the material is challenging and opinions will always be varied. I think that is tremendous.
    That said, I happen to agree with all the points you made that are within my comprehension of the field (I am not a professional creative).
    In particular the fact that we consume varied media – I continue to enjoy print magazines (though I have become very selective both for reasons of cost and ecology), but also many different blogs, some daily and some less often, and a few online magazines I have come across.
    I find it particularly interesting when the “rest of the world” gets to join in, as I’m in a position to choose not only English/USA but also British, Australian, German/Austrian/Swiss, French or Italian for my reading – like news reporting, I am always fascinated by the differences/similarities in style in different countries and languages. It’s an area where I’d like to see more globalisation!
    A most interestingly spent hour with your article and the comments, thankyou. I will also be reading that Tina Fey book…

  • I haven’t read the article yet but I’d just like to say that you are an amazing blog. I started reading Design Sponge (along with other design blogs and countless design magazines) over four years ago when I was redecorating our house. After redecoration ended, I stopped reading most design publications (including blogs) but I still read Design Sponge all the time. Your ideas and posts continually inspire me (like the movie series and the Friday cooking posts). You are truly a treasure to the design community, so thank you!

  • Hello,

    I haven’t read The Times article but really enjoyed your post, as a stand alone piece. It’s not good to read an article and think ‘I don’t think you meant it to come across like that.’ Especially with the growth of Twitter, where it’s easy to forget that you’re posting to an open, global platform rather than just chatting with your friends in a bar. I think it’s important to think about what you choose to say not to conceal some truth or create a smokescreen for your true feelings, but because there is no intonation with text. It’s difficult to make your personality come out in the way that is so easy and obvious when you speak to someone. I suppose this is another point to creating a strong voice that is recognisable with your readers.

    Thanks for another great post, Grace. I find the Biz Ladies posts such a great read. As a young designer with no training and a non-arty background, it’s great to hear other people’s thoughts to add to the ones that constantly bounce around my mind!

    Hope you have a tip top weekend,

    Emily x

  • I couldn’t let this go without a note to you and your “little craft blog”. Yours was the first blog I ever read over six years ago and you changed the course of my life forever. I felt lost in my wonderful, but very small, community as a stay at home mom. I craved something more, something “out there” where other people seemed to be thriving. You gave me the realization and courage to follow my passion.
    After all these years you are still following your own unique voice and I couldn’t be more grateful to you for giving me mine.
    Thanks for speaking for us!!

  • As a somewhat older woman with some old-fashioned tastes, I have to say I was very pleased to see such articulate writing, both from you, Grace, and your readers. Thankyou.
    The comments have remained civilised and fair even though the material is challenging and opinions will always be varied. I think that is tremendous.
    That said, I happen to agree with all the points you made that are within my comprehension of the field (I am not a professional creative).
    In particular the fact that we consume varied media – I continue to enjoy print magazines (though I have become very selective both for reasons of cost and ecology), but also many different blogs, some daily and some less often, and a few online magazines I have come across.
    I find it particularly interesting when the “rest of the world” gets to join in, as I’m in a position to choose not only English/USA but also British, Australian, German/Austrian/Swiss, French or Italian for my reading – like news reporting, I am always fascinated by the differences/similarities in style in different countries and languages. It’s an area where I’d like to see more globalisation!
    A most interestingly spent hour with your article and the comments, thankyou. I will also be reading that Tina Fey book…

  • this was a perfect response, grace. i read that article and found parts of it refreshing (some of the magazines can be a bit to self-serving for me to handle) and some if it very eye-opening as far as dealing with the media but most of it to be a bit catty all around. i bought ‘girls to the front’ based on your recommendation and am really looking forward to reading it… i think you make such an excellent point about women in the workplace in general. competition doesn’t need to get so catty. you always inspire… in many different ways!

  • Wow. Really appreciate your thoughtful & heartfelt posting about this. I’m relatively new to blogging and am not in the design world — just a gawker to all of the inspiration it gives. I actually read that article with excitement! But your flip side perspective is very eye-opening and you make a lot of good points. Thank you!

  • Grace, your points are well taken. As a voluminous consumer of magazines from a young age, I think the one thing that stands out to me about the online publications now is that the audience for the design-oriented lifestyle magazines is young and glossily priveleged. “The Matchbook girl lives for field trips to Maine and her favorite lobster shack,” I just read. When reading YOUR blog, however, I don’t think I have to be 20-something and wear the right skinny jeans and have my Stumptown at the right place every day. Thank goodness!

  • I love that you keep going back to the riot grrl for inspiration. We need examples of riot grrl now more than ever and designsponge definitely does that through your scholarships, biz ladies and overall desire to help others. it keeps you dynamic, encouraging and engaging! Keep being a light.

  • Great response. I read that NYT article and was left with an uneasy feeling all day. Your words are spot on. Thank you.

  • I know from someone who simply enjoys flipping through both online and print magazines, the over-analysis is killing me. As a reader I enjoy tons of content and images. Don’t edit it down that is what online pubs are for!! I read all of them, not just one. Why? Because I can they are free!! I read them just like I read my daily blogs. I actually rely much less on print mags than ever because of these online pubs. BECAUSE they have so much in them and because I can click threw. It is simple. They are cool and we like them. I say stop the bashing and over-analyzing and enjoy!!

  • Grace: Y’ know I love ya but I almost had to stop reading at this line
    “…If you want to have the cache that comes with being a “magazine editor”, you need to be an editor…” My inner editor wanted so badly to put the “t” on cache and give it the meaning you intended. It all counts, down to the last bit of copy-editing.

    I’m glad I kept reading to the end. You work hard to share and mentor and your success is well-deserved.

    • barbara

      sorry i didn’t catch that. my sentence about missing having an editor at house & garden and wanting to still have those additional years of experience were no joke- i really miss having someone to push me harder. i really do appreciate people catching things like that and helping me push myself harder. i promise it won’t happen again ;)