Friday, March 30, 2007

No TIME for Women Writers

So I know we're on issue two of TIME magazine's new redesign, but since I hadn't paused to take note of it when it hit the stands two weeks ago, I thought I'd stop now to point out something I've noticed about the new layout--which, generally speaking, I love. But here's a funny thing that's caught my eye: as part of this redesign, TIME's decided to run cute black and white images of their columnists and staff writers next to their articles. This is great, because, gosh, I always wondered what Lev Grossman looks like. The thing about having all these photos up there, though, is that it makes something pretty damn clear: TIME's got a woman problem.

In this week's issue, I spot one and only one picture of a woman writer (staff writer Lisa Takeuchi Cullen). And if you leaf through the magazine you will note that only an embarrassingly small number of bylined articles overall are written by women. This is no shocker--it's a trend that's happening all over the media. Folks at TIME know they have a problem: a few years ago I had lunch with an editor at the magazine who acknowledged as much without any prompting. But given how stark the disparity is between the numbers of male and female writers at the magazine, one can't help but wonder why the powers that be would choose to underline--no, broadcast--that disparity visually. Did they think no one would notice?

Umm, actually, that's probably exactly what they thought. Because, by my guess, the powers that be didn't notice it themselves. I'm betting that when John Huey, James Kelly and Richard Stengel looked at those shining photographs of their writers, they didn't think, "Hey, they all look pretty much like us--and that's a problem." (I'm not even going to start on the lack of racial diversity here.) They probably thought about a million other things having to do with circulation, ad sales, and maintaining the magazine's esteem in a competitive marketplace--but these issues of who is actually writing the content of the magazine, that group's lack of diversity, and what displaying that lack quite prominently might say to a diverse world audience... well, apparently that part didn't quite catch them as being a big deal. To me, it is.

That said, I'm not sorry they've done it. My hope is that enough people we see the faces behind the bylines and begin to wonder why they don't look more like their own. And then maybe they will start blogging about it, and writing letters, and making phone calls--until one day we'll all be able to say of the faces peering out of the magazine, "Hey, they look a lot like us, too."

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