Amanda Hess



Suicide reminds reporters how vulnerable their sources can be

Gretchen Molannen suffered in private for 16 years before her life story appeared on the Tampa Bay Times website on Friday, Nov. 30. In the piece, she described the persistent genital arousal disorder that forced her to “masturbate for hours for just a few minutes of relief.” She also told reporter Leonora LaPeter Anton about her condition’s other costs: The judge who denied her disability claims. The doctor who made a joke. The jobs that disintegrated. The boyfriends who left.

Five days later, Molannen appeared in another Tampa Bay Times story: “Woman featured in Times story about sexual disorder commits suicide.”

The suicide drew international attention to Molannen’s story — and to the reporter who told it. “I’m so sorry,” Anton wrote to me when she declined an interview for this piece. Read more


Binders full of Big Bird: The risk & benefits of reporting on memes

On the evening of Oct. 16, in the second presidential debate of 2012, Mitt Romney mentioned that as governor of Massachusetts, he had requested “binders full of women” to help recruit top female candidates to his cabinet. One minute later, 23-year-old social media manager Veronica De Souza registered and began furiously Photoshopping.

Soon, images of Christina Aguilera, Sandra Fluke and Dora the Explorer were all trapped within three-rings and posted on the site. Thirty minutes out, the blog had amassed 3,000 followers. The next day, @BarackObama released a binder-themed campaign ad attacking Romney’s policies on women’s rights. The National Republican Congressional Committee countered with its own submission, daring President Obama to fit his lengthy health care bill into a binder.

Forty-eight hours after the birth of the meme, De Souza sat in front of CNN’s cameras with Soledad O’Brien and former D.C. Read more


Debate over new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer reveals divide between women in media and tech

When Yahoo named Marissa Mayer its new president and CEO last week, she became one of the most powerful women in media and technology overnight. The media side had a question for her: Is she a feminist?

Journalists swiftly exhumed videotape of Mayer addressing the term. “I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist,” Mayer told an interviewer during her time as a Google exec. “I don’t have the militant drive and the chip on the shoulder that sometimes comes with that. And I think it’s too bad, but I do think that feminism has become, in many ways, a more negative word.”

Cue the commentary. Marissa Mayer is a feminist. Maybe just a trickle-down feminist. Or else a nightmare. Or a disappointment. Read more

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Why 88% of books reviewed by The New York Times are written by white authors

Last week, The Rumpus published a piece by Roxane Gay titled “Where Things Stand,” in which Gay reported that nearly 90 percent of books reviewed in The New York Times are written by whites. Gay researched the racial background of every author critiqued by the paper in 2011. She yielded predictably striking results: 31 black authors, 655 white ones. Eighty-one reviewed books in all by writers of color. “I don’t know how to solve this problem or what to do with this information,” wrote Gay, who is black. Still. “I like knowing where things stand.”

Two days after Gay’s count hit, a writer at Poynter called me, looking to commission a piece on the subject. We are both white. We first worked together several years ago, at a newspaper edited by a white man, then again at a website edited by the same white man. Read more