Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked


September 10, 2009

Watchdog of the Underrated Woman

Rachel Sklar has made it her personal mission to make sure that good work by women in media does not go unnoticed.

Michael Gluckstadt

When Media Circus and Geeking Out, Gelf's two newest speaking series, first launched, most of the responses we got were very positive. Then there were the ones we received from Rachel Sklar, "Wow no ladies do media or science? How strange!" she wrote to us. Then, after we responded, she wrote back "Here's a list of women who cover/have covered the media industry: Stephanie Smith, Irin Carmon, Glynnis MacNicol, Jessica Coen, Jessica Pressler, Rebecca Traister, Rebecca Dana, Rebecca Fox, Caroline McCarthy, Maureen Tkacik, Anna Holmes, Maggie Shnayerson, Doree Shafrir, Emily Gould, Jenna Wortham, Melissa Lafsky, Keli Goff, Meghan Keane, Rachelle Hruska, Lindsay Robertson, Corynne Steindler, Emily Nussbaum, Nina Munk, and me."

Image Courtesy of Diana Levine
This panel isn't about 'why women can't make it in media'—they can. And have. It's more about why the proportions are still out of whack."

Image Courtesy of Diana Levine

Gelf wasn't the first to experience the wrath of the former Huffington Post media columnist and current editor at large for Mediaite at what she feels is the underrepresentation of women in media, though we may be the first to take her up on her threat. We invited Sklar to guest host this week's Media Circus, where she will be moderating a panel discussion titled "Overlooked: Women in Media."

In the following interview, which was conducted via email and edited for clarity, Sklar tells Gelf about her new gig at Mediaite, her various social media outlets, and does an astonishing job name-checking underappreciated women in today's media.

Gelf Magazine: Congratulations on the two-month anniversary of your website, Mediaite. Before launch, were you worried that there might not be room for another high profile media-centric blog?

Rachel Sklar: Nope. There's always room for good stuff. Plus, I had previously spent the last few months distracted by my Tumblr dashboard and pouring all my writerly, comment-y energy into my Tumblr (Charitini), Twitter and Flickr—so at minimum, it was just a more efficient way to streamline my output.

Gelf Magazine: Has the site already settled into its voice and niche, or is that still developing?

Rachel Sklar:Yes, and yes—we have a distinct personality at this point, I think, which is reflective of the mood in the office—congenial, fun, a bit goofy, more than a bit offbeat. I really enjoy the take on media stories but what I really love are some of the more random pieces, like Andrew Cedotal going off on Michael Arrington, or Robert Quigley micro-analyzing Miley Cyrus, or me randomly writing about cars. I think we have a great collection of writers and contributors with lots of personality and good smart takes, and it's especially fun when they do a deep dive into nichery.

Gelf Magazine: There was a lot of talk at the outset about founder's Dan Abrams supposed conflicts of interest. Have there been any stories that you've felt the need to back off of because of the involvement of one his clients?

Rachel Sklar: Nope. All of those stories were based on fretting without any basis in actual, supportable fact.

Gelf Magazine: How does working at Mediaite compare to your time at HuffPo?

Rachel Sklar: It's similar in many ways— a lot of recruiting and editing, though I do more of that here—and obviously the media beat. At HuffPo ,I was the lord and master of Eat The Press, and that was my place to park my musings and it was my own branded space; here I have more of a responsibility for the site overall which means a lot more assigning and editing than I ever did. It's a great muscle to be working — it helps me appreciate great editors (I need to shout-out my editor at the Daily Beast here, Michael Solomon, who is a great and patient editor) and it also gives me a major charge to be able to help people wrestle their half-formed ideas into great columns. It's been very, very busy but I am getting a killer DIY-gestalt media education.

Gelf Magazine: You've been very vocal about recognizing the work of women in media, and criticizing those who dismiss it. What do you think are the biggest issues facing women in media today?

Rachel Sklar: We're going to talk about that at the panel. I think that the biggest obstacle right now may be that that there is still that feeling that "Oh, if we have one we're fine"—for panels, for "best of" lists, for conferences— so people stop looking. This panel isn't about "why women' can't make it in media"—they can. And have. It's more about why the proportions are still out of whack —not only in terms of representation at the higher levels, but also in terms of self-promotion. Sometimes it's harder to get women to come out, or contribute, or put themselves out there. I've noticed this generally in my calls for contributors to Mediaite, and in "elective" activities like, say, the "Big Business Breakfast" that The Barbarian Group unofficially hosts for the new media/tech scene at Katz's Deli the 2nd Tuesday of every month. It is completely open, to anyone—and it's a total sausagefest. I've known about it for 3 months but only went this past Tuesday. So whose fault is that? I want to look at both sides of the coin.

Gelf Magazine: Do you think that Diane Sawyer taking over for Charlie Gibson as the host of ABC's World News is a big step?

Rachel Sklar: It is only in the sense that it isn't —she's the most natural person to, and it's not a big deal that she's a woman...really. We'll see how the numbers break out, if the data reflect a switchup from Katie to Diane, or from Charlie's old viewers to BriWi. It will be interesting to watch it unfold. Diane certainly won't take what Katie took in 2006 —not by a long shot. But when their numbers are close or they're battling for an exclusive? How much money do you want to put on some tabloid calling it a catfight?

Gelf Magazine: Who are some of the most under-appreciated women in media today?

Rachel Sklar: Oh God put me on the spot. Okay well let's start with Jen Bekman—who is not only fierce as hell, she owns this territory A few years ago she hit the roof when Tokion announced a huge conference lineup with not a single woman. She put out the call for qualified women that could add to any panel on pretty much any subject—and got the most massive power list imaginable. So I bow before her dominance in this area.
That said...I don't just talk the talk, I walk the walk—allow me to refer you to this Charitini post of mine from March 25th. In it I list some fabulous women who are awesome, like Lindsay Robertson (late of Videogum), Rachelle Hruska (at the time I wrote it, you could call her "overlooked" as a killer founder and a rockin' powerhouse—not anymore, Ms. NYT profile CNBC go-to Cosmo Fashion Week supastar!), Jenna Wortham from NYT Tech/Media (hardly "overlooked" but considering how the giant shadow of David Pogue could blot out the sun, well, you decide). Other than that, I dunno, lemme namedrop: Rachel Syme from the Daily Beast? Alisa Leonard-Hansen from iCrossing, whose thinking on social media is so advanced it makes my head hurt? Ellie Rowntree from Rocketboom? Nichelle Stephens and Rachel Kramer Bussel, who built this powerhouse cupcake blog that totally dominates (try googling "cupcakes"), yet are constantly impressing me for their prolificness across a huge whole other spectrum of media? Verena von Pfetten, former HuffPo Living editor (and Canadian!), now Senior Lifestyle Editor at Air America? Natasha Vargas Cooper, who does amazing stuff at the Awl and disappeared way too soon from Gawker (like all women!)? I'm running down my mental RSS and it is packed. Stephanie Smith, Irin Carmon, Jessica Coen, Jessica Pressler, Rebecca Traister, Rebecca Dana, Rebecca Fox, Emily Nussbaum, Maureen Tkacik, Maggie Shnayerson, Doree Shafrir, Melissa Lafsky, Keli Goff, Meghan Keane, Corynne Steindler? It's also packed with up-and-comers that I can't wait to watch emerge, like Ruthie Friedlander and Katie Baker and Jessica Gold Haralson and Regina Nigro. I'm psyched.

Gelf Magazine: Do you think that this under-appreciation is a remnant of blatant sexism from a past generation that will die out in time, or a chronic sentiment likely to continue?

Rachel Sklar It's already dying out. This panel is about hastening that process.

Michael Gluckstadt

Michael Gluckstadt is an editor at Gelf and host of the Varsity Letters speaking series.

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Article by Michael Gluckstadt

Michael Gluckstadt is an editor at Gelf and host of the Varsity Letters speaking series.

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