Deez Interviews: Meet the journalist who’s writing a women’s magazine-centric newsletter as a much-needed antidote to the Media Male Gaze

Happy Friday Deezers!! Today’s interview is with Natalie Daher, a multitaskin’ journalist extraordinaire who talked to us about interviewing Jill Abramson in college, starting a newsletter focused on women’s mags, and generally developing a better understanding of how women’s media still thrives in an environment that mostly consists of men yelling about things on TV. Enjoy!

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The interviewee: Natalie Daher (follow her @NatalieDaher7!)

The gig: NowThis News social publisher + freelance writer & journalist + writer of CLIPPED, a biweekly newsletter on women’s magazines

First, a q about your work with NowThis News, aka one of the biggest news video publishers online. How do you think the landscape of social video has changed in the past few years since the great Pivot To Video?

The landscape, I hope, has changed because media companies have woken up and realized technology companies do not have their (or their audience’s) best interest in mind. Nobody has a solution to media’s broken business model, but getting played by a platform — especially if that platform can’t count — is a bad look for a publisher’s quality and their survival. Laid-off journalists, which I have been, know that reality too well.

More outlets are investing in “premium” or longer-form content a.k.a. videos that require more skills, resources, and time than the O.G. visually aggregated form, which I find refreshing. Beyond social, that publishers want that streaming platform money comes as no surprise because media is a flat circle.

Outlets that excel in social video are consistent in their voice and (have to say it) brand visibility, can scale across platforms, and actually value loyalty and trust. One of my colleagues Matt jokes that our team at NowThis is at the “cutting edge of publishing science,” because we’ve obsessively hacked and spread-sheeted our output and distribution strategy. Not unlike my job as a beat reporter, there are new and often frustrating problems to solve every day.

Everyone’s talking about burnout, so leaders in this space are probably tirelessly working, setting and explaining goals. The volume and range of video we produce demands that we have honest conversations about performance, emerging platforms, engagement, and bridging publishing/editorial on a regular basis. It can be exhausting, and I strongly recommend hobbies.

As a freelancer, you've covered a huge range of subjects, from writing about old American diners for Atlas Obscura, the growing popularity of midwives for the Daily Beast, to pumpkin paddling for NatGeo. Is there a unifying thread that ties together the types of stories that interest you most?  

I’ve been telling people I write about “women, the internet, and history” lately just so I can have an answer to that question, but alas only one of these stories fits those themes.

But I generally look for human-driven stories, love a conflict, surprise, or sense that something’s at stake, and also adore old and/or everyday people. I cling to writing narratively as a freelancer because I haven’t had much space to explore that style in my day jobs. Beyond themes and threads, I like experimenting with different forms, partly because there seems to be no manual for that (so it keeps me up at night), and partly because I have some strange, insufferable desire to prove to myself that I can.

Okay, so tell us about your newsletter, CLIPPED! What gave you the inspiration to start it?

I started the newsletter with my friend and then-roommate because she was the only person who I’d text about women’s media, and I wondered if anyone else cared. I’d been consuming media newsletters like Brian Stelter’s at CNN (spoiler: he subscribes to CLIPPED but rarely opens!) and Michael Calderone’s at Politico for many years.

They were so network-centric and insider-baseball, and I wanted something different that felt like it might be appealing to someone I knew who didn’t live in New York or D.C. and nerd out about this sh*t to a painful degree.

Moreover, none of the media newsletters I received seemed to take women’s media terribly seriously, which is an attitude reflected in broader society. They were an afterthought. I wanted to center them and work against that narrative and basically make a case that women’s media, from Reductress to Jezebel and Glamour, is more of a cultural force than we give it credit for.

So I started CLIPPED to be an antidote to the Media Male Gaze, to be a form of nostalgia for generations of women, to celebrate and critique the wide range of contemporary or historical women’s media, AND like Deez Links to interview people who I thought were doing cool work, but seemed less likely to be interviewed than, say, a WaPo reporter on cable news.

What's been the most interesting thing you've learned about the history of women's media since you started this newsletter?

This is tough. It’s modern history, but I loved researching our first issue on JANE. As two women who enjoy estate sales, we ordered a print copy from the 90’s with Monica Lewinsky on the cover on eBay. I really appreciated how the magazine cultivated a confessional, sharp and occasionally cunning vibe well ahead of its time. Without a huge internet presence, JANE readers formed a community well before we ever imagined how Facebook, Twitter, and robocalls could completely upend the fabric of society.

Gotta ask because she's been in the news lately but also because woman + media and like, the fact that she’s Jill Abramson, what was it like interviewing Jill Abramson for your college paper??

So, Jill Abramson probably had better things to be doing than talking to two state school students on a Wednesday afternoon, and I still appreciate and admire her for that. Full disclosure, my friend and I both dressed “business casual” and sat awaiting her arrival in a Pittsburgh hotel lobby thinking, like, “Wow this will totally be in our memoirs!” Then, we felt like we drastically underwhelmed her with potentially boring questions.

That said, years later, I GASPED over the niche drama at my desk when I saw she’s sparring with Trump about her new book’s coverage of the NYT, and that Margaret Sullivan tweeted about it.

Jill Abramson is a badass, smart, take-n0-shit woman writing articles only she can write and still hitting the streets to report on the Denver Post’s wild unionization struggles against hedge-fund owners. She gave her first interview post-firing to Cosmopolitan. That’s solidarity!

By following her career, I feel grateful that we spoke with someone so passionate about and experienced in media, and I love that she responded to our doe-eyed, anxious millennial question about authenticity with, “You are all still really young, and that’s wonderful [smiles]. Before you can be an authentic person, you have to grow into who that person is.” I think about that a lot.

You recently tweeted about this WaPo article about how women's magazines are dying, with the argument that women's media is actually thriving even if it isn't rewarded in the patriarchal economy. Can you expand on that more?

I worked at CNBC for 11 months, and in that environment of men yelling about money on television every day, you absorb very quickly that business and the economy is not built for women, our interests, or our needs.

It’s much easier to reduce the state of women’s media to a morgue simply because it saves you the time and energy of understanding history and context. Women’s magazines are not a straight line from Ladies’ Home Journal (where Eleanor Roosevelt wrote a column) to Cosmo’s “X tips to please your man.” Media and its ownership are hardly built for women, as anyone who read Good Girls Revolt could have told you before #MeToo or the Shitty Media Men list. Modern women’s spaces are still not safe from lawsuits, intense scrutiny, investors like the fictional Bryce from Tavi Gevinson’s final Rookie letter.

Like any media outlet, women’s magazines have a complicated history filled with failures and missteps, and their dependence on advertisers and now branded content are not unique — yet they face disproportionate criticism for it. As the great Ann Friedman wrote at The Cut many years ago, “How to Appeal to Dude Investors? Tell Them Your Start-Up Is For Men.” I believe that sentiment is also true of legacy and new women’s media publications. As I have written, One Skimm does not a Gentlewoman make.

Finally, what lesser-known women's magazines/media do you regularly follow that Deez Links readers should get in on, too??

Ughhh, so many. Damn Joan, The Riveter Magazine (RIP), BUST, Broccoli, Cherry Bombe, She Shreds. Everyone knows about Man Repeller by now, right?

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Don’t forget to follow Natalie on Twitter and subscribe to CLIPPED here! Have a nourishing weekend y’all.