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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  • 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 ;)


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