January 20, 2017

The Lily was the name of the first U.S. newspaper edited by and for women, starting in 1849. But don’t feel too bad if you didn’t already know that.

“It’s something that’s not in our journalism history books,” said Kim Voss, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Central Florida.

Voss, who has written about women’s pages and their changing (and sometimes not changing) role in our culture, didn’t make an instant historical connection when she read about The Washington Post’s new “experimental, visually-driven product designed for millennial women.”

“People assume we’re naming it something flowery because we think women love flowers,” said Amy King, The Lily’s editor. “But this is far from the thinking that has gone into the development of this project. And I’m not surprised by the reaction.”

She’s seen some negative reactions to the concept from people who call The Lily another attempt to dumb down news for women. But that isn’t the case, she said. As the Post describes The Lily, it’s not a women’s page or section or vertical in the traditional sense. Instead, it’s an attempt to take the news the Post produces and repackage it for a different audience on distributed platforms.

“People consume news in many different places,” King said. “We want to make sure when we post to Instagram, for example, that we are creating content that is best for that platform. Otherwise, it’s just lazy work. This is an audience of digital natives, and the expectations are higher.”

The Lily will have a newsletter, as well as profiles on Medium, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. It will take a highly visual approach to curating the Post’s work for millennial women and mix in some original work. By reaching people where they are, The Washington Post hopes to cultivate an audience that will become familiar with the brand and eventually become subscribers, said Deputy Managing Editor Tracy Grant.

“We have grown our audience enormously in the last three years, the notion that we’re at one hundred million uniques in the U.S. gives us muscle mass in the market,” Grant said. “But we understand that there are audiences that we are not tapping into.”

She also hopes The Lily will offer lessons for how the Post can reach other demographics that it’s not currently reaching.

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When Voss read about the project, she was excited to see what The Lily will become even though she didn’t make the historical connection right away. But she understands the concerns people have about it, too.

Women’s sections come back to life every 10 or 15 years, often to mixed reactions, she said, partly because women were excluded from the news for so long.

“I think reaching more readers is always a good thing,” she said. “I think whenever you begin to genderize it, that’s going to be the problem.”

There are already several projects aimed at the young, female audience, including The Broad Side, Lenny Letter, Broadly and The Skimm. The Sarasota Herald Tribune is experimenting with a similar concept, repackaging daily news for millennials with a site called Unravel. Much of the content is curated from the Herald Tribune, rewritten in a different style and voice.

The Lily, which is hiring for several positions and will launch later this year, plans to be experimental and adapt quickly to feedback, King said.

“The idea of telling stories in multiple forms and experimenting with storytelling modalities is just something that we are more inclined to do and I think getting better at,” Grant said. “This is it on steroids.”

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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