Politics & Policy

Girls in Glass Houses

The media news of the week.

David Carr in the New York Times on Monday lamented the fact that breaking through the glass ceiling is just not enough these days for women in the highest echelons of the media. No, he said, above the ceiling “you find a secret glass treehouse suspended far above your head. That’s where the men sit.” Or, one might assume, the monkeys.

He cited three cases of leading women in the industry who, in the past weeks, did not get what others believed they might. And he seems to blame their shortfalls, partly at least, on the usual male malevolence.

One is Karen Elliot House, publisher of the Wall Street Journal and wife of the current CEO, who did not get her husband’s job when he announced he was stepping down. She is now also leaving Dow Jones. But this seems to me as much “out with the old, in with the new” as it is a case of a woman scorned. If you were the new CEO would you really, really, really want the former CEO’s wife–or husband, capable or not–hanging around?

Mary Berner, the second executive who departed the sleek offices of Conde Nast last week, had a different story. She is a very successful magazine-maker and leader of troops who had been the head executive of Fairchild, a division of Conde Nast, best known for publishing Women’s Wear Daily. She did a great job there, doubling the number of magazines published, and hiring a loyal, hard-driving staff of mainly women advertising executives. A few months ago Charles Townsend, the chief executive and president of Conde Nast, with some advice from McKinsey, decided to reorganize and bring Fairchild into Conde Nast. Berner, a shrewd executive, had the option in her contract to leave if she didn’t want to report directly to Si Newhouse, the somewhat eccentric company owner. And she did just that.

Berner, a mother of four, is very well-respected and really very good at what she does, and there is no doubt she will get another great leadership role. In fact, her leaving may confirm something more about the smarts of the men who run Conde Nast than about overall opportunities for women in the media today.

Martha Nelson, the third woman who disappointed Carr, was promoted, not pushed out, but that just apparently doesn’t matter to Carr. Nelson, who was the managing editor of People, Time Inc.’s most valuable property, has been made corporate editor in charge of People, and all its spin-offs such as Teen People and People en Español. But media gossip had it that she was going to be made second in command to John Huey, Time Inc.’s newly installed editor-in-chief. For the past years, Huey had been editor-in-waiting to the newly departed Norman Pearlstein. But Time Inc.’s President Ann Moore, a woman herself, and Huey’s boss, surely must have signed off on Nelson’s new role. And maybe the only people who are really disappointed are the media gossips, who have been claiming Nelson was going to be Huey’s Huey and wanted to get it right

Quite frankly, the magazine business is a fairly small one, and while the editors who edit our leading magazines may be the best editors around, the people who run the business, mostly men and some women, are not necessarily the best of business people. Many of the smartest leave publishing companies and join venture-capital funds and merchant banks.

Let’s face it: In this day and age, trying to make money out of paper and postage, with a marketing model in which you charge your most loyal customers, your regular renewers, the most amount of money, and your new subscribers the least, is a little nutty to begin with.

Which brings me to the other media story of the week: The Magazine Publishers of America, the publishers’ trade organization, acknowledged that it paid Preston-Gates, one of the lobbying firms that employed Jack Abramoff, $1.8 million dollars to help keep postal rates down. They also contributed $25,000 to Toward Tradition, an organization that purported to be an alliance of Jews and evangelical Christians. It has been said that Abramoff funneled money through this organization to the wife of his associate, Tony C. Rudy, a former aide to Tom Delay.

By the way, the postal rates were deferred, but only briefly, and went up in 2000, costing the industry 200 million dollars. Postal-rate hikes socked the industry again this week with a cost that is estimated as an additional 180 million. So, as it turns out, this week’s real news is that those monkeys, male or female, who now sit in the glass treehouse above the glass ceiling of publishing, haven’t gotten much lately besides trouble for their money.

Myrna Blyth, former long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness–and Liberalism–to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.

Myrna BlythMyrna Blyth is senior vice president and editorial director of AARP Media. She is the former editor-in-chief and publishing director of Ladies’ Home Journal. She was the founding editor and ...

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