Why Were Women Shut Out Of The National Magazine Awards?

Nominations for the National Magazine Awards were announced today. The usual contenders made it on there like The New Yorker, New York, Bloomberg Businessweek and GQ. But there was just one thing missing in the main, big-league categories: women. Out of 25 nominations, zero went to women.

The finalists included no women in the Reporting, Features, Profiles, Essays or Columns categories, but they did net four out of the five nominations for Public Interest reporting. For a full list of the nominations, go here.  The awards will be announced in New York on May 3. The toast of the evening will be Terry McDonell of Sports Illustrated. “Sounds like a regular frat party,” wrote Alexander Nazaryan of The New York Daily News. He continued, “And just about all the nominees are Caucasian. Perhaps white men can’t jump, but they sure can write longform.”

However, I’m not sure why we should be so surprised by this outcome. A young feminist organization called VIDA has shown us the gaps with women in publishing, including magazines, for the past two years. Magazines including the Atlantic, Harper’s, and the Nation found an overwhelming imbalance when it comes to who gets published, and who gets written about. “In the literary world, men are still in charge,” Grindstone staff writer Ruth Graham wrote. 

NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute also just announced its list of the 100 most influential journalists of the last 100 years, and it only had 22 women on the list. One hundred years? Twenty-two women? I had more kids at my seventh birthday party.

Nazaryan pointed out a number of great pieces that should have been nominated and though I am sorry to say I haven’t read nearly enough of them, I did read Kate Bolick’s stunning Atlantic piece on the state of modern marriage, “All The Single Ladies.”. That article got a national discussing going and is going to be made into a TV show. I think at least a nomination would have been nice.

As for the diversity of the judging of the NMA’s, Alyssa Rosenberg broke it down beautifully in her post for Think Progress. (It should be noted that this information on the judging was not properly attributed in the first publication of this article but since then the situation has been rectified. We apologize for the error.)

“243 judges participated in the selection process for this year’s print National Magazine Awards, of whom 118, or 48.5 percent, were women. 40 percent of the judges are editors in chief of magazines, 20 percent come from places other than New York, and 25 percent were first-time judges. Of the 20 judging groups, 8 were lead by women—the original plan would have had 9 women group leaders, but one dropped out and was replaced by a man. Holt [ Sid Holt, the chief executive of the American Society of Magazine Editors] said his goal is to put together judging pools that won’t produce easily predictable results. “There’s no specific guideline, there’s x number of women or x number of men,” he explained, “but there have to be more than a couple of women or men” in any given pool.

Each initial submission is evaluated by two readers, usually a man and a woman, though Holt said the process emphasizes diversity of background so “It’s not two women service editors. If it’s a man and a woman, it’s not a man from a sports magazine and a woman from a sports magazine.” Those readers initially evaluate the pieces by reading them as PDFs that are uploaded to a website. When submissions move to the judging pool, judges read the stories again in the physical magazines which they appeared, so everything from the paper to the byline is the same. Holt said there have been debates about stripping bylines from pieces, but that certain magazines—like the New Yorker—and certain pieces that are so widely circulated that it wouldn’t make sense to attempt to disguise who their authors are.”

Rosenberg of Think Progress also makes another interesting point. There is a specific Women’s Magazines category for the General Excellence awards, while there is no men’s category. Instead, men’s magazines like GQ compete in the General Interest category. She wondered if “the division in General Excellence creates an incentive for women’s magazines to genuinely specialize their coverage across the board, while men’s magazines have incentives to commission features and criticism that compete with publications like the New Yorker and The Atlantic.” Having their own category may actually be hurting women.

Nazaryan pointed out that in the category of fiction, three out of five ASME nominees are women. He wrote, in a sarcastic tone,  “You see, ladies, you finally have that room of your own that you were clamoring for, don’t you? Use it all you want to write your pretty made-up stories about, um, your womanish concerns. Just don’t think that you can be actual, serious journalists. That’s still a boys’ game.” But, unfortunately, though he is exaggerating the point, news like this does remind us that it still may be a boys’ game.



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