Way back when I was a wee geekling, a series of books helped shape the notion in my head that I wanted to come to New York City and be a writer/publisher. One of them, a romance novel by Judith Krantz, was about the magazine publishing industry and a mythical new magazine called B&B which promised to its female readers that it would never condescend to them, never make them feel worthless (as much of the beauty and fashion industry does), always makes them laugh, and always have the right hangover medication ready when needed.
When Sassy magazine founder and wunderkind Jane Pratt and several of her other now-unemployed writers and editors founded Jane magazine in 1997, I was both elated and angry that she did so, because it felt as if Pratt had reached into my mind and stole the idea I had to bring B&B into the real world. Jane was a great and well-written magazine, which is why it came as such a shock to so many when publisher Conde Nast pulled the plug on the publication in July 2007, two years after Pratt “either quit or was forced out.”
Now, Jane Pratt never really went away. According to her Wikipedia page, Pratt had a child, miscarried two children, and is doing a call-in talk show on Sirius XM Radio Fridays at 6 pm Eastern. But you can’t keep a good publisher down, and yesterday, Pratt made her Internet publishing debut with xoJane.com.
And I should be totally ecstatic about that, right? Except, I’m not.
To get it out of the way, the fact that Pratt has been able to be the founder of three publishing ventures (so far) within one lifetime while I’m working on my first has left me with a feeling that comes very close to being described as “sour grapes.” I can’t deny that Pratt was smart and savvy in her early 20s, choosing a Communications major and being able to get an internship at Rolling Stone. In contrast, I chose to major in English so that I could learn more about how to write and understand different genres of literature. My post-collegiate career consisted working a regular part-time job booking reservations and travel packages for the Disneyland Resort in California in order to pay off some debts that I incurred during my first serious relationship.
But pushing aside those feelings, I have a few serious concerns and reservations about Pratt’s new venture, the source of which can be found at the very bottom of every page:
xoJane.com is where women go when they are being selfish, and where their selfishness is applauded.
A perfect example of this philosophy can be found in Pratt’s first editorial, a blog entry which was originally written in November 2009 but published for the public for the first time on Monday. In it, she describes what she overheard when eavesdropping on two receptionists in a high-priced salon:
[Karen the receptionist] said so many nice things about how the writers in Sassy and Jane seemed like real people with unique voices and points of view. How political and outspoken and opinionated we were. Then she started to say that another difference was that I’d put lots of pictures of the staff in the magazine and that we would be involved in every story ourselves. And it was around that time that I got a feeling in my stomach that I’ve had before: flee because I am about to hear something that I really don’t want to hear (other times I’ve been surprisingly eviscerated behind my back). But I stayed, as I always do, and then heard this:
KAREN: “She just looks soooo much older.”
Other (potentially clueless) receptionist: “How old do you think she is?”
KAREN: “She must be mid to late forties.” (I’m 46.)
Other: “Really??!? She looks sooooo much older than that! I would’ve guessed 60’s.”
KAREN: “Well, partly I think it’s because she was 28 or something when she started Sassy (I was tempted to yell out “24! I was 24!”, but didn’t). So it is shocking to see her with so many wrinkles and just looking like an older lady.” This is when I walked down the rest of the stairs, though they were just getting started, already crying and hands shaking, so I don’t know exactly everything they said after that but that was plenty.
Being upset about someone saying you look older than you really are isn’t terrible, nor is it selfish. I’m luckier than Pratt in that because my parents are from the Philippines, I may still end up looking like I’m in my 30s when I’m 46, thanks to the aging process of Asian women. However, as some of the first commenters to the article pointed out, it was a bit rude of her to mention the employee by name because (if she hasn’t left the salon already) she could be fired.
There are other examples of this kind of selfish thoughtlessness in the magazine, from tech editor Natalie Podrazik’s reasons for why she can’t date a guy who doesn’t have a smartphone to managing editor Emily McCombs’s reasons why she’s so excited to get free make-up (while telling us their editorial policy on the products they’ll be plugging), or McCombs again on why she thinks women like watching “Game of Thrones” (she was alive when New York Times writer Ginia Bellafante got eviscerated for her ill-written review, right?), or Boardwalk Empire actress Paz de la Huerta mentioning in their fashion spread that actors who have Down’s syndrome are childlike and entertaining…
That is not to say that there isn’t great stuff being posted at xoJane.com. While she took a misstep on the “Thrones” piece, McCombs knocked it out of the park when she detailed how she had a conversation with a man who raped her in her teens and had contacted her on Facebook. More pieces like that could tip the scale back into the “Jane Pratt is a publishing genius” column.
Ultimately, it’s just too early to tell what, if any, impact Pratt and her 20-something editors will have on an already crowded blogosphere. Until then, I’ll just bide my time and hope that by the time I’m ready to make my own move, there will be enough audience left for me.