Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Damn: Trish Bendix Writes AfterEllen Eulogy

AfterEllen, the popular lesbian and bisexual pop culture site, is shutting down. Or, at least, is going to be significantly changing. [NOTE: See update]

Editor in Chief Trish Bendix wrote a eulogy yesterday on tumblr, noting that the company that owns AfterEllen wouldn't let her post her piece at AfterEllen:
 "Here are the facts: Evolve Media purchased AfterEllen from Viacom two years ago. They gave us two fiscal years to become their LGBT property and profit in that space, and they found we are not as profitable as moms and fashion. And, yes, “they” are mainly white heterosexual men, which is important to note because not only is this the story for us, but for a lot of other properties—large-scale media outlets, lesbian bars out-priced by neighborhoods they helped establish, housing in queer meccas like Portland that is being turned into condos and AirBNBs. 
 At the very same time, queer women and culture is being celebrated on the Emmys, in the legalization of both mothers being included on their newborn’s birth certificate, and our namesake, Ellen DeGeneres, being one of the most well-known, well-liked and undeniably profitable television and lifestyle personalities of our generation.

Somewhere, there’s a disconnect. AfterEllen is just one of the homes lesbian, bisexual and queer women will have lost in the last decade. It was a refuge, a community, a virtual church for so many. I’m not sure that some people outside of us can really ever understand that.

Evolve has decided to keep the site and its archives alive for now, with a promise of periodically publishing freelance pieces in the future. I am not sure what that will look like, as Friday is also my last day, after 10 years of contributing writing and eventually coming on to work full time as a blog editor, then managing editor, and, for the last two years, as Editor in Chief."
With all of the usual disclaimers that I haven't agreed with all of the site's content or moderation practices, this space has been important for so many women during its 14 years in existence, including to me. Participating in The L Word forums circa 2004 were some of my first experiences interacting with an online community of queer women.  I even had a completely awkward (on my part) meetup with founder Sarah Warn when she was visiting the city in which I live, and which she probably 100% doesn't remember, LOL. But, I drank too much and we talked about my shitty ex, Desert Hearts, and how/why she created the site.

It's a bit unfathomable to me that the site will be changing or will no longer exist in its current incarnation.

Through its interviews with lesbian, bisexual, and trans (LBT) actors and those portraying them on TV/film and through its recaps, reviews, and different contests (like the AfterEllen Hot 100), I think the site has had an extremely important (and perhaps overlooked) impact in terms of letting the TV/film industry know both (a) that LBT women exist as a fanbase, and (b) we care A LOT about how we are represented in TV/film.

Without being privy to financial circumstances that Bendix refers to with the respect to the company that owns AfterEllen, my subjective opinion as a user is that the site declined significantly in terms of user experience, something I noticed mostly in the past couple of years. I'm not at all referring to the content of articles, but rather, to what seemed to be a greatly-increased commercial presence. When visiting, I always got the sense that first and foremost a company was behind the site wanting to make money off of users, and that sense was almost completely overwhelming when visiting.

I understand the importance of ads being necessary to generate revenue when one is running a commercial site. Yet, a visit to the site to read an article often entailed: seeing a banner ad, seeing ads on the sidebar, having ads on the sidebar with embedded videos that would automatically play, having a pop up ad with video show up once you clicked on an article, and having a pop-up ad play audio/video. Like I said, overwhelming. The ad content was overly-intrusive, made the site slow, and it distracted from the substantive content, so I know my visits to the site definitely decreased over the years.

But, I also think sites ought to pay writers, particularly if they are commercial sites. And, the revenue to do that has to come from somewhere.

With the shuttering of The Toast earlier this year (which I also find heartbreaking, and which also seems like it was done at least in part for financial reasons), the LBT and feminist blogospheres will have to continue to explore models of sustainability - models that pay people and in which the user/reader experience is not eroded. Readers seem to not like paid subscription models. Although, I know other sites (like Shakesville) use a donation model.

Personally, I would love to blog/write about LGBT pop culture and feminism on a full-time paying basis, but it's difficult to conceive of doing that in a way that would pay the bills. Hence, Fannie's Room, something I do in my free time. (YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR, SUCKERS!)  And, there's almost a Catch-22 component to it: if you work full time at a non-blogging job, you have less energy to write during your free time. If you work full-time at a blogging job, you probably have more trouble paying the bills.

I guess my point is that I don't have a simple answer. I'm sad to hear this news about AfterEllen. It seems like the end of an era, in some ways, and I hope we can find a way to collectively fill the void. What is after AfterEllen?

[UPDATE: An Emrah Kovacoglu, General Manager of TotallyHer Media, posted at AE today that the site isn't shutting down, but that Bendix has been fired as Editor, that people would still be able to access content, and that they hope to work with freelancers to generate new content. This claim aligns with what Bendix said in her tumblr.

In the comment threads, multiple current writers for the site have said that this information had not previously been shared with them, and that the editorial change was abrupt. The way TotallyHer has handled this situation has led to distrust within the community that AE would be now (mis)managed by straight men and eventually shut down when not profitable enough. I will certainly be monitoring developments.]

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