For five years, Salon’s Broadsheet championed women’s causes, lampooned the media for sexist coverage and took a nuanced approach to women’s news. It was where you could read about the dwindling options for late abortions following the murder of Dr. George Tiller. It was where you could read about the mixed messages and thorny issues that motherhood brings. You could read about style and culture–because women like those things, too. Sadly, you won’t be reading it anymore. Its demise was confirmed last week. One more significant voice for women has been silenced.
According to Salon,
No feature in Salon’s history kicked up the amount of righteous dust and ad hominem rage as Broadsheet. We’re immensely proud of the role it’s played raising intensely important questions about women’s issues in politics, pop culture and way beyond.
I am not alone in mourning Broadsheet. One reader wrote to Salon: “Oh, please come back, Broadsheet! I need feminists in my life to agree with most of the time–and I need you to write things I disagree with every once in a while, so I can comment obnoxiously about it!” Hannah Rosin of Slate’s Double X (another women’s site that was folded back into its parent site) wrote that Broadsheet “was the original rabble rousing lady site, founded in 2005 when such a thing was unheard of.”
The reason for the section’s cut in December was financial. The official statement went on to note: “For much of the last year, Broadsheet has been a one-woman show performed by Tracy Clark-Flory and she was ready to move on to other assignments.” There was a promise that Broadsheet-like content would be included in other parts of Salon. But as a media scholar, I am fearful that, if history repeats itself, that won’t happen.
Most newspapers had a separate women’s section for decades. Much of the content consisted of fashion, food, weddings and club news. Yet, starting in the 1950s and the 1960s, content we would recognize today as feminist began to pop up in the women’s pages. Sprinkled among the traditional content were stories about domestic violence, pay inequity and the need for daycare.
In the 1970’s, women’s liberation movement leaders called for the end of the women’s pages, arguing that women’s news should be on the front pages and in the news sections. It was a great idea in theory but it failed in practice. Newspapers responded by replacing women’s pages with lifestyle or entertainment sections, but they didn’t increase coverage of women’s issues. For example, it has been noted that the topic of sexual harassment did not make it to the front pages of newspapers until Anita Hill accused future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clearance Thomas of such behavior. But women’s page journalists had been questioning their treatment at work decades earlier.
My concern about the end of Broadsheet is that another resource for women has been lost. To critics who complain that women-oriented online publications such as Broadsheet marginalize women’s news, I say, yes, the mainstream online media needs to cover more of such news. But there is a long way to go in that regard, and Broadsheet was filling part of that need. One of the strongest elements of the section was its feminist critique of the media–something that needs to be done on a regular basis.
I know that times are tough for the news media, online and otherwise. But it is difficult to believe that Salon could not have found a solution that kept a section devoted to women alive. Just Thursday, The New York Times featured a story about Gabrielle Giffords’ women friends in Congress that referred to new Congresswomen as “giddy” and called Pelosi “a mother-hen type.” I wish I could read the Broadsheet take on that.