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April 15, 2018

Hey, we SEE you, looking all fierce & intelligent.

And you may have seen Lily Herman on the internet. Maybe it was a decade ago on Tumblr, or through her newsletter (Net)Work B*tch, or her writing on Refinery 29, Teen Vogue or Glamour. Lily tells us she wrote over 1,000 pieces of published content before even graduating college, but she doesn’t think too much about the future, except for an eventual screenplay. She’s got a lot on her immediate agenda.

For issue #12, we asked Lily to talk with Clipped because beyond her work on politics, health and other subjects in women’s media, she's exceptional at organizing groups of women online. Lily has commented on the media industry and will inevitably play a big role in its future.

Before we hop in, congrats to Teen Vogue for winning the Sidney Award for its "agenda-setting social justice coverage" this week. Here's a good interview with the magazine's new-ish executive editor Samhita Mukhopadyay.

Till next time! 
Natalie & Danielle 

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Q&A with Lily Herman, freelance writer & editor

Your Teen Vogue reporting has been praised for saying it like it is, and women’s journalism has been praised for pushing back and calling things out first. I’m thinking of Teen Vogue’s piece on gun control and Cosmo’s Ivanka interview. Why do you think that women’s magazines are coming out ahead in this reporting? 

For one thing, media is and has been typically male narrative-dominated (and written by men), and regardless of what you think of Hillary Clinton, having a women presidential nominee forced many people to reckon with how they talk about women — especially because we'd supposedly reckoned with it eight years ago when she ran the first time, and we really didn't learn anything. What many people, particularly many women, figured out is that they really hated how many of the supposedly big "non-biased" outlets covered high-profile women like Clinton, not to mention issues that affect women.

Meanwhile, women's magazines had a real upper hand here, especially given that their staffs are largely women and that their publications had in fact covered current events and politics in some form or another this whole time. One of the biggest misconceptions about women's media is that these publications just started talking about issues like gun control or taxes, but that couldn't be further from the truth. In addition, for a long time in our history, women's magazines were the only place where women could receive any information on their sexual and reproductive health and the fight for women's rights.

Combine all of that with the female rage of this era and the fact that people are more willing to support institutions they maybe didn't a few years ago, and you've got a lot of reasons why people are finally giving women's media its due.

And let me be clear: There's a long way to go in media in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and women-centric media is no different. There have been vast improvements over the past three to five years, but I don't think anyone would argue that those publications are anywhere near done in making sure that their staffs and their content reflect all women in America and what they're interested in reading about.

After Walmart banned Cosmo from checkout lines, you noted that the move distorted #MeToo. What’s your impression of why an anti-sex organization — despite #MeToo’s potential to pursue good sex — got its way with one of the biggest retail giants in America?

What's most important here is that the National Center on Sexual Exploitation has been working to get Cosmo off of Walmart shelves for years. It can't be overlooked that pretty much all of us joined the conversation at the tail end of it, not when the discussions were actually going on with Walmart and these conservative constituencies. Plus, we also can't forget that Walmart is seen as a largely conservative brand, and they know who their base is. Lastly, NCOSE didn't make their move because of #MeToo but tried to use a current and highly visible cultural movement to curry favor with the public since they knew it'd be painted in a negative light. They're not the only conservative brand trying to co-opt the parts of #MeToo that sound good while completely discarding the rest of it, which you obviously can't really do and be genuine about helping women as a whole.

If you read magazines when you were younger, what would you say has changed about them and which ones did you read?

As a young elementary school girl, I love Discovery Girls; it was my dream to be in that magazine. Once I hit puberty, I was a huge CosmoGirl, Elle Girl, and Teen Vogue reader. I can't remember too much about any individual magazine at this point, but I always remember feeling like there was a certain inaccessible "cool girl" factor that I couldn't relate to, especially as a pre-teen and adolescent growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, which is most definitely not a culture hotspot.

Magazines for younger women today still have some of the bones of their predecessors, but I think there's a lot more consciousness that women of any age are multifaceted and have other interests. Now you have magazines dedicating entire issues (instead of maybe just one feature) to topics like current events, politics, or careers. I heard former Seventeen magazine editor-in-chief Ann Shoket talk about this shift at an event recently. In 2008, she said, the magazine featured Lauren Conrad on the cover because girls wanted to look like her and have The Hills lifestyle. If that cover was done now in 2018, it'd probably be all about Conrad's career and aspirations.

You get interviewed about women-centric media/magazines a lot. Anything you wish people would stop asking you? On the flip side, anything you don’t get to talk about nearly enough?

I think the thing that gets disproportionally talked about a lot (usually in a well-intentioned light) is my age without the context of how people achieve a lot in a shorter period of time, regardless of age. For example, during my first four years in the industry (i.e. my four years in college), I wrote over 1,000 pieces of published content. I also started what was essentially my own media company and worked for a ton of startups, which also contributed heavily to where I am now. If the average college student hears I'm 24 and doing what I'm doing without more of that information and an understanding of that path, that narrative becomes pretty intimidating and unattainable really quickly. In other words, I'd rather talk about how I went about creating 1,000 pieces of published content than talking about the fact that it happened before I turned 22.

People have commented on how you’ve achieved so much very quickly. You’ve got the rest of your life ahead of you. What are five things you hope to accomplish for yourself or help change in the media industry?  

I honestly don't think too much about long-term goals or plans, but I would like to actively contribute to diversifying media and helping young people receive great opportunities to become part of the industry. I'm sure how that works will take a variety of different forms as I get older and the field changes.

In terms of personal goals, they change on a dime! I've found that a lot of my career has happened from choosing things that interest me and working really hard at them, so that's probably the path I'll keep taking. A lot of the things I'm doing now weren't on my radar two years ago, so I have no idea what I'll be looking to do next. I will say, however, that I've been wanting to write a screenplay since I was 17 and that's not necessarily related to magazine journalism, so I should probably get on that.

You get interviewed about women-centric media/magazines a lot. Anything you wish people would stop asking you? On the flip side, anything you don’t get to talk about nearly enough?

I think the thing that gets disproportionally talked about a lot (usually in a well-intentioned light) is my age without the context of how people achieve a lot in a shorter period of time, regardless of age. For example, during my first four years in the industry (i.e. my four years in college), I wrote over 1,000 pieces of published content. I also started what was essentially my own media company and worked for a ton of startups, which also contributed heavily to where I am now. If the average college student hears I'm 24 and doing what I'm doing without more of that information and an understanding of that path, that narrative becomes pretty intimidating and unattainable really quickly. In other words, I'd rather talk about how I went about creating 1,000 pieces of published content than talking about the fact that it happened before I turned 22.

People have commented on how you’ve achieved so much very quickly. You’ve got the rest of your life ahead of you. What are five things you hope to accomplish for yourself or help change in the media industry?  

I honestly don't think too much about long-term goals or plans, but I would like to actively contribute to diversifying media and helping young people receive great opportunities to become part of the industry. I'm sure how that works will take a variety of different forms as I get older and the field changes.

In terms of personal goals, they change on a dime! I've found that a lot of my career has happened from choosing things that interest me and working really hard at them, so that's probably the path I'll keep taking. A lot of the things I'm doing now weren't on my radar two years ago, so I have no idea what I'll be looking to do next. I will say, however, that I've been wanting to write a screenplay since I was 17 and that's not necessarily related to magazine journalism, so I should probably get on that.

Lily's amazing monthly newsletter that you can subscribe to, here.

You’ve been using the internet to form communities of young women since you were a college student. What’s your greatest takeaway on the power of the internet to start a conversation and build relationships among women, and its greatest drawback?

I think the greatest thing about digital community-building is creating spaces of people who'd never find each other otherwise and letting people know they're not alone. I remember the first community I discovered in high school was the fitness/wellness community on Tumblr, and it was the first time in my life I felt like I had a group of people who really "got" me in a way that my in-person peers didn't. I'm actually still friends with quite a few people from my Tumblr days almost a decade later!

On the flip side, community-building sounds great in theory, but you have to spend a lot of time dedicated to maintaining the group you have and not just growing it. Inner group dynamics can easily turn sour if you're not thoughtful, and there will always be people who won't get along or will disagree. You have to spend even more time working on those issues as opposed to just scaling that community, and I think that can get frustrating for a lot of people organizing on the internet for the first time.

Gradually media seems to be ringing the alarm on how much science and medicine do not know about women’s bodies and health. You’ve written guides on reproductive health, like pap smears, or surgeries like breast reduction. What’s do you think the role of women’s magazines is in explaining women’s bodies and health to them?

What I think is so great about this era in women's media is that magazines understand in a new light that they can lead the way in terms of shaping how a generation of women thinks about their bodies and their rights as owners of those bodies. For many women across the country, these publications — both print and digital — are their first (and often only) exposure to topics about women's health and women's rights, so there's a real opportunity for women's magazines to get it right and a real responsibility not to cause further harm.

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Written by
Natalie Daher and Danielle Fox. Designed by Martina Ibanez-Baldor.
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