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What News Looks Like When Women Matter: Profiles of Rita Henley Jensen and Victoria Graham of Women’s Enews – Part I

Real news on issues that matter to women is hard to find on the Internet, much less in a newspaper or on network news. Rita Henley Jensen and Victoria Graham, editor in chief and managing editor, of Women’s Enews, publish the groundbreaking and intelligent journalism on issues that affect women’s lives. In other words, they publish the stuff that doesn’t show up on women’s Web sites or in any of the widely available mags or papers.

Rita Henley Jensen, Editor in Chief of Women’s Enews

SS: What is Women’s Enews?
RJ: Women’s Enews is the result of the “Women in Media Project” at the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund. NOW Legal Defense is a non-profit organization that has used the power of the law to define and defend women’s rights for the past 30 years.

Women’s Enews is a source of fair, accurate, originally reported news on politics, health, business, culture, law and policy—all written with the concerns of women in mind. We publish news or commentary every day, and we send this news feed to thousands of subscribers: journalists, editors, writers, policy-makers, lawyers, and activists around the world. We distribute our news via email and our Web site is a source of the week’s stories in addition to our extensive archives.

SS: How did the idea for Women’s Enews come about?
RJ: The NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, in 1996, held a round table discussion with leading editors and writers including Katha Pollitt, columnist from the Nation and Ruth Whitney, the editor of Glamour magazine at the time but who now has passed away. Susan Faludi, author of Backlash, was there, as well as Kate Rounds, news editor for Ms. Magazine, and a handful of others including myself—all to discuss why the women’s movement had such a negative public image and why we, as supporters of women’s rights, could not get our stories out through the media.

The leaders of NOW Legal Defense came to the conclusion that there was going to be no persuading the mainstream media that they should cover women’s issues as part of their routine coverage and that they should treat women more fairly. There was just no winning. So NOW Legal Defense decided to establish their own media, their own news service using the Internet. The Internet made it possible. They reached out and interviewed people, and I was one of the people at the meeting that was called upon, and I realized that this was the job for me and NOW Legal Defense must have realized it too.

I had been a senior writer at the National Law Journal and had received a fellowship called the Alicia Patterson Fellowship, which gave me a year off to write stories. My subject matter was detailing how law firms helped their clients cheat others and how they have cheated their clients. But half way through my fellowship, Newt Gingrich came to power and I realized that things were really a lot worse than I thought for women. And as often happens with fellowships, you have time to think. I decided that I somehow had to use journalism on behalf of women because things were just terrible. Also the news coverage about welfare was alarming. And as a former welfare mother, I was outraged. I’d been floundering around. I was teaching. I was writing a column for the New York Times Syndicate. But I was floundering around trying to find a place where I could combine my dedication to women’s rights and my journalism background. So when the letter came, I thought, ‘Oh dear. This must be it.’

My first day was September 1, 1999. By March 15 of 2000, we had launched the Web site.

SS: What is the audience for Women’s Enews?
RJ: We have two primary audiences. One is members of the media because that was our focus initially and it is really to demonstrate to them, to il

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