Elle’s Robbie Myers on Women’s Magazines and Serious Journalism

Can mags still be respected with 'sexy' cover lines?

There's been a lot of talk this week about the "seriousness" of women's magazines, which all started with a cover story from U.K. magazine Port hailing a "New Golden Age" of print media—one that, judging by the editors featured on Port’s cover, is being led exclusively by white, middle-aged males. In response, a debate has sprung up about whether women’s magazines are, in fact, capable of providing “serious journalism.” Elle editor in chief Robbie Myers used her August editor’s letter to explain that yes, in fact, they are. 

Why write this letter?

The day that [the Port cover] came out, I started getting emails from my colleagues and editors who work here and from other magazines. Everyone was like, “Can you believe this?” And The New Republic ran their story [“Can Women's Magazines Do Serious Journalism?”], and there were some comments about how “serious journalism” wasn’t part of women’s magazines’ mission. I thought, “Wait a minute, that’s really not fair, and it’s not true.” I just felt that it was time for a response from one of the people that actually makes a women’s magazine.

Have you heard from ASME's Sid Holt, who you criticized in the letter?

Sid and I have known each other for a very long time. He wrote me a very smart, measured and insightful response, and I know how hard ASME has been working to work with the concerns of editors of magazines for women. I don’t want to give the impression at all that ASME doesn’t care about women’s magazines. I think there’s more of a general perception [that women's magazines aren't serious].

Do you think ASME will reconsider having women’s magazines in their own category, whereas men’s are considered “general interest”?

I was on the [ASME] board, and I had been in some of those meetings where it was explained how the categories were going to change back to having one for women’s magazines. There were some compelling arguments as to why that should happen. I was not on that side of the argument. I feel that our mission is probably closer to that of some men’s magazines than some other women’s magazines. To say that [women’s magazines] exist as if we’re all going after the same woman and are providing the same service to our readers …That’s not my feeling.

Are you glad that the Port cover story, as controversial as it was, has brought the conversation about women’s magazines to the forefront?

It’s a conversation that the people who work in women’s magazines have been having amongst ourselves for some time now, particularly when you go to the ASME awards. I think it’s an important conversation to have because if you marginalize women’s magazines, in some way, you’re marginalizing women.

Your editor’s letter has received some reader comments saying that it’s hard for Elle to be taken seriously with cover lines like “Sexy Hair Secrets” and “50 Perfect Swimsuits for Every Body.”

If you were to look at the cover of GQ, you would see cover lines about “great style” and “the perfect suit” and things like that, and nobody would dismiss GQ as not being a substantive magazine. In our business, the cover is many things. It represents who we are, but it’s also a sales tool … the newsstand [consumer] is different from our subscriber. Obviously, we have to sell a magazine to them, too.

There’s also criticism that almost all of your cover stars fit the mold of young, thin actresses or singers. Do you think you’d ever put a female executive or politician on the cover?

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