Jun 6, 2019 18:38

On why only four women have written cover stories for The Atlantic since 2017

On why only four women have written cover stories for The Atlantic since 2017

“ It’s really, really hard to write a 10,000-word cover story. There are not a lot of journalists in America who can do it. The journalists in America who do it are almost exclusively white males. What I have to do — and I haven’t done this enough yet — is again about experience versus potential. You can look at people and be like, well, your experience is writing 1,200-word pieces for the web and you’re great at it, so good going!”
Jeffery Goldberg, on The Atlantic’s cover story diversity

There’s been a lot of talk on Twitter about this quote, and for good reason: it’s a dumb thing to say! I’ve included his full quote to get some context; to Goldberg’s credit, he is talking about The Atlantic’s failure to be more proactive about commissioning women for cover stories.

Still, it’s immensely insulting to make any kind of insinuation that the reason The Atlantic cover stories have been mostly written by dudes is because there aren’t as many skilled women. This is especially true for The Atlantic, a magazine that has been particularly bad at getting women to write cover stories and which is home to some spectacularly stupid male-written cover stories. This is, after all, the place that in the last year has published on its covers an incredibly stupid treatise on hardened immigration laws by David Frum and a scientifically disingenuous and openly harmful transphobic screed by Jesse Signal.

(Also, bears repeating that his premise is objectively wrong: other magazines, newspapers, and online publications have been publishing 10,000 word pieces from women with no problem! The New Yorker does it all the time! It’s a failure on The Atlantic’s editors, not on the pool of talent.)

For funsies, I went through and counted how many Atlantic cover stories have been written by women. Since the start of 2017—the timeframe Goldberg generally points to as the beginning of an improvement for The Atlantic’s gender equality—women authors have accounted for 4 cover stories. There have been zero women-written cover stories this year.

As the rest of the piece notes, Goldberg and Executive Editor Adrienne LaFrance have expanded the number of women in masthead editorial positions, something they deserve credit for. However, until they reach gender parity on the magazine’s most influential and prestigious product—the cover story—they are not doing enough. And frankly, Goldberg's excuse is bullshit.