TNR and Women Editors

by Rachel Morris | February 15, 2011

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Katha Pollitt argued in Slate this weekend that we should stop griping about the lack of female writers and instead start griping about the lack of female editors. It’s a smart point. Editors assign stories. Not all women editors care about closing the byline gap, but many do. So, if more women were editors then over time more female bylines would follow.

But then comes the not-so-smart point:

At the New Republic, of the top 12 editors, only two are women (and one of these two is the executive editor, which sounds suspiciously like a managing editor). The list of 41 contributing editors, who are basically those writers who belong to the magazine's inner circle, includes only four women, only one of whom is under 60.

As anyone who has worked at a magazine knows, mastheads are like hieroglyphics; you practically need a Rosetta Stone to decipher one. Most mastheads are a jumble of former staffers who haven’t filed a piece in years, big names who rarely show up at the office, and a handful of people who actually do all the work. Titles also mean wildly different things depending on the publication. At the New Republic, for instance, senior editors on the front of the magazine and contributing editors don’t edit; they write. Pollitt's right that both those categories are heavily dominated by men, and that’s not good. But her piece was specifically looking at the people who actually edit, and in that area TNR isn’t bad: Of seven people on staff who assign and edit stories, three are women. It’s not quite 50 percent, but it’s a lot better than two out of 12.

One of those women, by the way, is me. Yes, I’m the person whose title Pollitt thinks “sounds suspiciously like a managing editor” (that is, someone who runs the production process)--which is, she explains, “a position with lots of work and not much power.” But, no, I commission articles and edit them, a fact that could have been checked with a quick phone call. Given Pollitt’s genuine concern about the lack of women in senior editorial positions, it seems, well, counterproductive for her to assume that if a woman does appear high up on a masthead, her job just can’t be all that important.        

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