Last week, I pitched a story to xoJane. It was all about what I learned chopping off my hair. Almost instantly, I got an email back from xoJane’s managing editor, Emily McCombs, saying they’d love to run the story.
I about peed m’pants! Here’s why.
Let’s go waaaay back to 1995. I through some school fundraiser, I’d signed up for a Beverly Hills 90210: The Magazine subscription. I remember getting the first issue and thinking, huh… I wonder how they’ll make 12 of these in a year? I was 11 at the time. That magazine folded immediately. Instead, every month, like clockwork, I’d get a magazine called Sassy.
Sassy changed my life. It was so funny, well-written and full of the kind of knowledge a tween craved (aka how to be/act older; stories on something called STDs; lots about this band, Nirvana). I read each and every issue and thought the world of editor-in-chief, Jane Pratt… who I just today realized was only 24 (!) when Sassy debuted.
Eventually, Pratt left Sassy to form Jane magazine. When Pratt left Jane in 2005, it was just never the same. Jane disappeared in 2007.
I missed Sassy, Jane and Jane Pratt.
And then, by some miracle called the Internet, there she was! xoJane.com launched in 2011. It felt like home.
They run lots of well-written content, submitted by all kinds of people. They still do Makeunders (meaning before and after pics of someone going from tons of cosmetics to almost none), It Happened To Me (people’s crazy real-life stories) and Unpopular Opinion (unpopular opinions). Except there was one addition:
the comments section.
I enjoy reading and participating in a great thread as much as the next person. And there are many, many thoughtful, kind comments on xoJane. However, one misstep, and the comment section will eat you alive. A recent example: It Happened to Me: I’m a Demisexual. (< that link IS safe for work).
Like many people, I did eye roll when I read the article. But I also felt for writer Molly Martinson. She seemed… really young. And then I read her bio. It turns out she is really young and openly dealing with depression. What might 1447 comments (and growing) ripping you to shreds feel like? I think we all have an idea.
I decided to write for xoJane, even though I feared the comments. I submitted my pitch and it was accepted. I wrote my piece, sending it two days later with photos and links. The editorial team never contacted me again. I saw my piece, live on the Internet, 10 hours after it was posted.
It already had over 200 comments.
I buzzed through them and was thrilled to see most were extremely kind. Granted, I wrote about hair, which isn’t exactly politics or religion or abortion or taxes. There were some haters. One woman said I sounded “victim-blamey” for saying I haven’t been catcalled since cutting my hair. One guy said, “I am considerate of my girlfriend and would never make a major change to my appearance without asking her first. The author sounds like a selfish brat. Marriage and relationships are a partnership.”
Whatever. For the most part, it was positive.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about Molly Martinson. And another young writer, Jen Caron, who wrote this young & dumb, but well intentioned article. I feel the Sassy & Jane editorial teams wouldn’t have run that piece. They would’ve looked out for a naive writer. Because obviously publishing it means only one thing: unleashing thousands of often very smart and sharp-tongued commenters. And this time around, their staff doesn’t pick one or two to run in the front-of-book Letters section. We all get to read every last one of them.
Sassy and Jane shaped me during my teens and early twenties. Pratt’s editorial team taught me about fashion, being more mindful, Courtney Love and Noxema. The voice informed how I write today. I looked up to Pratt and her team.
There’s something missing on xoJane. Part of it is due to the drive to get content online as quickly as possible. There are errors in my article. Sloppy stuff, like not linking things properly or accidentally bolding a letter in the middle of a sentence for no reason. I was never alerted that my article was online– not by an email, mentioned tweet or facebook post. That’s just common courtesy, but I can live with it.
What bugs me is young writers getting thrown to the wolves.
I get that giving thoughtful feedback takes time and hey, we’re all busy. And a lively comments section means impressions, which means dollars, but maybe we should be advising young writers? Telling them, hmmm…. maybe you don’t want to publish that. I’ve had people say that to me, and I am forever thankful for the opportunity to re-write.
I didn’t know at 19 what I know at 32. Who does? I care a lot less about what people think of me at 32 than I did at 19.
I’m not saying it’s the xoJane staff’s job to mentor young people or new writers. I personally just feel as human beings, it’s the right thing to do.