At the PG&E Auditorium on Sept. 27, 2016, EWIP awarded Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlain and EIC Clara Jeffery as our Exceptional Women in Publishing, a dual recognition that we haven’t done since 2004, when we honored mother-daughter Ardath Rodale and Marie Rodale.
Following hors d’ouevres catered by Fuddhism and wine, journalist Jessica Buchleitner moderated the 30-minute Q&A with these fearsome ladies. Please enjoy the video (thanks to board member Katharine Fong for her Periscope) and a slideshow glimpse of our evening. To those who joined us, thank you and we look forward to seeing you in 2017!
Below, the transcript of just the introductions:
“Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.”
That motto came from Mother Jones, born 1837 in Cork, Ireland, as Mary Harris. She grew up during the Irish potato famine, lost her husband and four children to yellow fever in Memphis, and saw her small dressmaking shop consumed in the Chicago fire of 1871.
It was at age 63 at the turn of the 20th century, when industrialization was changing America’s landscapes and widening the gulf between rich and poor, that this itinerant widowed Irish immigrant reinvented herself as Mother Jones. She fought for the cause of the working class, be it garment workers, bottle washers, steelworkers or copper miners, and she took her fight to the top, going toe to toe with corporations and politicians, including Theodore Roosevelt. Mother Jones believed working families had to bond together to fight corporations and politicians who worked in their own best interests.
Forty years ago, Mother Jones was reborn, during the age of Watergate scandals. Within two years of its launch, the magazine investigated the Ford Pinto, America’s best-selling compact car that killed at least 500 people at low-speed rear-end collisions. This would be the first of many exposes, domestic and global.
If you can imagine the power of Mother Jones, imagine when two women team up. Ten years ago, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlain became the co-editors of this storied progressive periodical. In the past 10 years, magazines and newspapers have downsized or disappeared altogether. In the Bay Area, where Mother Jones was founded, 30 percent of journalism jobs have been lost.
What did Clara and Monika, at a time of consolidation, job cuts and the loss of trust in the Fourth Estate? They tripled the size of its newsroom. They expanded to D.C. and New York. They reinvigorated website, where they can publish their scoops daily rather than bimonthly. Their online site increased sevenfold within three years, getting to 1.5 million unique visitors per week. Today, 10 million people visit MotherJones.com every month. Unlike many of their peers who still struggle to understand the web, Clara and Monika understand that, like Mother Jones did when she criss-crossed America, they too have to go to where their audience is.
At a time when media left watchdog reporting slip to bloggers and headline news to content mills, Monika and Clara bucked the magazine trend of the freelance model and began investing in staff journalists.
And for their efforts? Let us count just a few of the awards:
- 2015 James Madison Freedom of Information Award
- George Polk Award for Best Political Reporting
- People’s Choice Webby Award for politics, MotherJones.com
- Society of Professional Journalists award
- Online News Association Award for Online Topical Reporting
- National Magazines for General Excellence – twice during their tenure
And to Monika and Clara themselves, the PEN/Nora Magid Award for Magazine Editing. In 2015, Monika became CEO and Clara became sole editor in chief.
In the age of publishers trying to fit their content to distribution platforms, MoJo is going straight to the readers. After its latest stunning expose on private prisons, they’ve received nearly 2,000 sustaining donors in an ambitious campaign within a month: Before this, Mother Jones magazine only racked up 2,000 donors in its 40-year existence. If MoJo reaches its goals, they will show once again that quality reader-supported journalism can not only survive in the digital space, but continue to inform and foment change. We may pray for what journalism once was, but these ladies are fighting like hell in the MoJo spirit for the living.
In the traditional of the Exceptional Women in Publishing, we are so pleased to have Monika Bauerlain and Clara Jeffery be part of our own awardee legacy that has included Ms. Magazine founder Gloria Steinem, Essence founding editor Susan Taylor, Dwell Media president Micaela Abrams and National Geographic magazine editor in chief Susan Goldberg.