- The Handbasket
- RIP Jezebel (and women’s media in general)
RIP Jezebel (and women’s media in general)
The shutdown of the iconic website is a chilling reminder of the systematic silencing of our voices.
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In 2016, I took a job at a website called Fusion as a staff writer for its Sex & Life section. It was their version of what would historically have been called a “women’s” section, but in reality, it was so much more. Under the leadership of section editor Danielle Friedman, we stood at the forefront of covering gender, sexuality, health care and social justice as they began to collide in a way the world hadn’t seen since the women’s liberation movement.
Then Donald Trump was elected. And a week later, our entire section was laid off.
Anyone who’s worked in media in the last 15 years knows that layoffs are so common, it’s more unusual to meet someone who hasn’t been part of at least one. But this particular layoff felt a bit different.
After Hulk Hogan (backed by Peter Thiel) tanked Gawker.com by bankrupting it through a lawsuit, it seemed like the torch would be passed to Jezebel and Deadspin to serve as the media company’s flagship brands. Fusion, owned by multimedia giant Univision, acquired the newly-named Gizmodo Media and its iconic sites, and naturally us Fusion Sex & Life staffers quickly worried about how many of us would survive the merge. Add on top of that the fact that the editorial staff had just voted to form a union and we were were about to re-launch our new section rebrand and redesign, we understood our positions were precarious.
It was sad, even then, knowing management simply wouldn’t feel the need for two full teams of women writers writing about women’s issues, even as we thought we were on the verge of electing the first woman president. There was always the feeling that our numbers in this business were finite.
In the end, all but one member of the six-person team got the ax, making way for the Jezebel team to take up the women’s coverage at the newly-united Fusion/Gawker. Despite my brief tenure there, I’ll always remember how working alongside journalists Cleo Stiller, Laura Feinstein, Taryn Hillin and Samantha Allen under the incomporable leadership of Danielle Friedman was simply the best. It’s the type of dream team I hope to recreate in the future.
In 2019, Jezebel, Deadspin and the other remaining sites were sold to private equity firm Great Hill Partners, and G/O Media was born. Helmed by former Forbes executive Jim Spanfeller, the project felt doomed from the start. Spanfeller insisted on exerting editorial control, and in short order, top staffers at Deadspin were fired or quit. What followed was a slow and painful dismantling of some of the country’s most recognizable media brands, culminating in Thursday’s shuttering of Jezebel.
“As of this week we are making the very, very difficult decision to suspend publication of Jezebel. Few decisions over the course of my career have been as excruciating, and I want to make clear this is in NO WAY a reflection on the Jezebel editorial team,” Spanfeller wrote in a memo sent to G/O Media staff Thursday morning. “Their urgent, breakthrough coverage of reproductive rights in this post-Roe era, as well as other key issues core to modern women, affirmed the brand's storied legacy as the website that changed women's media forever.”
Spanfeller added, “Unfortunately, our business model and the audiences we serve across our network did not align with Jezebel's.”
In other words: Women are tricky! But from my view, if you’re unable to sell ads on a beloved 16-year-old feminist website with great name recognition during a time when women’s rights are under an unprecedented threat, that says a whole lot more about your business acumen than it does about the quality and importance of the site’s journalism.
Women’s voices have always been considered niche, disposable, fringe, despite us making up more than half the population. Our needs represent the majority, but that isn’t reflected in current media ownership and leadership. And that’s why we find ourselves falling through a glass pothole. We are worse off now than when Jezebel was founded in 2007.
The Writer’s Guild of America, of which Jezebel staffers are members, issued the following statement Thursday:
We are devastated though hardly surprised at G/O Media and Jim Spanfeller's inability to run our website and their cruel decision to shutter it. Jezebel has been a pillar of fearless journalism and important cultural commentary since 2007 and made an indelible mark on the media landscape. The closure of Jezebel also underscores fundamental flaws in the ad-supported media model where concerns about "brand safety" limit monetizing content about the biggest, most important stories of the day-stories that create huge traffic because people read and share them. A well-run company would have moved away from an advertising model, but instead they are shuttering the brand entirely because of their strategic and commercial ineptitude. Jezebel was a good website.
And now the enemies of feminism, progress and press freedom are celebrating the outlet’s demise. Rabid right wing outlet The Daily Caller declared Thursday, “The Internet’s Most Insufferable Feminist Blog Is Finally Shutting Down.” And The Daily Wire gleefully reported, “Jezebel, which is marketed to women and espouses unapologetic Left-wing views, especially regarding abortion, has reportedly been up for sale for months but was unable to find a buyer.”
These harsh realities further reinforce my decision to become an independent journalist, singularly focus on The Handbasket, and try to create something for myself. When I decided to fully lean into the Substack world a few months back, I knew in my bones just how bad media had gotten—far worse than 2016, the time of my last full-time staff job.
In many ways, going independent felt like literally the only option, with nearly every freelance assignment for a corporate media company leading to a total dead end. I had the good fortune of publishing my first and only piece for Jezebel in July, and now it’s gone. I’ve never been more aware of the fact that the only path forward as a writer is relying on myself. I wish it wasn’t so.
In the coming days, I’ll be publishing a more comprehensive look at Jezebel’s rise and fall based on interviews with former staffers (in the same vein as my Rolling Stone expose.) This type of work is challenging and time-consuming, but ultimately so worth it. I hope you’ll consider becoming a paid subscriber to help at least one woman writer keep at it.