Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Thoughts on Bitch and Non-Profit Media

Yesterday onetime-Slut Machine-turned-bride-to-be Tracie over at Jezebel came off rather "assey," as she says, in arguing that Bitch magazine should just die already. (Full disclosure: I am an occasional contributor to both Bitch and Jezebel. For the record, Bitch pays me; Jezebel doesn't.) Bitch editor Andi Zesler has also criticized former Jezebel writer Moe in its pages before.

That's not to say that Tracie doesn't have some legitimate criticisms. She, like Ezra, doesn't understand what the obsession with printing things on paper is. It seems clear that the best way to cut overhead costs is to stop printing on paper. It's very expensive, takes a lot of time, and actually isn't all that environmentally friendly. I know Bitch came of age during the third wave zine era, but this really would be the best way to save the magazine if they were serious about it.

The other point that Tracie brings up is that Bitch shouldn't be so prudish about accepting advertising. Bitch has a policy of only accepting advertising from feminist-friendly products and services, something Tracie points out limits their advertising revenue. Advertising is still the biggest way that magazines make money. I have mixed feelings about accepting advertising money from non-feminist sources, given Bitch's mission. While I agree with Tracie that it may not be realistic in the long term to reject such advertising funds, I also know that a lot of Bitch's readers, who find the magazine a haven for real feminist thought, may take the sudden change in advertising policy as an affront. They could lose some of their most loyal readers this way.

Tracie also seems to forget that Bitch is part of non-profit media. She expresses frustration that Bitch has the gall to ask for donations. But all non-profit media do this. The approach is different with each, National Public Radio does the equivalent of Bitch's beg once or twice a year -- and they also get subsidies from the government. In fact, non-profit media has a long and proud tradition of asking it's readers, viewers, or listeners to support the product they like. Yes, it's annoying, but we need both for-profit and non-profit media. Tracie's argument about advertising could well be applied to any non-profit medium. And then we'd just be left with outlets like Jezebel.

Finally, Tracie points out that "Maybe the reason why Bitch isn't succeeding is because, although it's trudged along for 12 years, it just isn't successful." Well, this depends on how you define success. If you define success only by financial success, then no, the magazine isn't successful. But if you think the magazine has something to contribute to the public debate, look forward to learning about pop culture through a feminist lens, then you probably find value in what Bitch does. The idea that only popularized mediums like Jezebel deserve to survive, well, isn't very feminist.

Ultimately, what is happening to Bitch is indicative of larger media trends. In response to declining ad revenues and subscribers, many publications look to cutting costs. Often this means firing people that know how to do their jobs, and we've seen that the results haven't been so great. I don't have the answer to media's problems, but I'd like to keep reading publications like Bitch. The more voices we have out there, the better off we'll be.

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