Last month Twitter started buzzing with anger about a Katie Roiphe piece in Harper’s potentially outing the creator of the “Shitty Media Men” list. I had to Google her because I’d never heard of her before. The results page sprawled with bylines from The New York Times, The Paris Review, Harper’s, Esquire.
I’m a member of a private Facebook group for women writers and I see these publications in many of their “pitching dream publications” lists. That’s lists of places they pitch their writing to in the hope of one day getting an article there. Pitching is a process where you send out your articles and article ideas to editors, who receive so many pitches they will probably never even see yours. You keep trying anyway.
But I’m sorry Sarah from Kentucky. Or Samantha from Arizona. You could write as well as Herman Melville and the odds of you getting into Harper’s is as likely as winning the lottery.
I’ll tell you why. Just look at the “images” tab from my Google search on Katie Roiphe. A lot of the pictures are from society pages. These are publications or sections that have professional photos from fancy events that you and I aren’t invited to. Like charity galas that only invite people who are famous or who pay $250+ a ticket.
Sarah from Kentucky is one of 10,000 pitch emails the Harper’s editor gets. It’s a lot easier to get the attention of the Harper’s Editor if you’re across the room from them at a party. Katie Roiphe lives in NYC, she’s upper class. Her parents were notable people. She went to an Ivy League school. That doesn’t make her a better writer, but that gives her unparalleled access to the gate keepers of writing.
It’s a form of industry-wide nepotism that favors upper class white people from big expensive cities. Once you’re part of that, you can do almost anything and never have to worry about the consequences. For example, see the number of these people who have plagiarism scandals and are back to the prestige bylines within months.
Roiphe didn’t even have to pitch. Harper’s asked her to write the piece.
It’s no wonder so many writers are looking outside that world and publishing on places where there are no gate keepers.
But there is an element of snobbery against Medium among establishment editors and writers. Anyone can publish in Medium. Most pieces are unedited. That means there are of course bad pieces. But Medium is also home to a lot of great writing, even if a lot of it doesn’t have the polish an editor would give it.
I think Medium is a step in the right direction for the industry. A place where a writer from anywhere can get their pieces out there and maybe even get paid for them. It’s a shame they face an obstacle when they can’t use them as clips when pitching for fear of facing snobbery.
Katie Roiphe has been publishing the same reactionary schtick for over a decade now. And establishment publications keep hiring her over and over. I find it hard to believe that she’s the best person for the job. The same subject has been covered on Medium better by a more interesting and diverse group of voices. Katie Roiphe’s article in Harper’s seems stale in comparison.
They didn’t even have to be dishonest to sources the way Katie Roiphe did:
Roiphe had emailed me to ask if I wanted to comment for a Harper’s story she was writing on the “feminist moment.” She did not say that she knew I had created the spreadsheet.
And Roiphe did that because she can. Because she knows she can do anything and still have those sweet bylines.
It’s telling that there is more stigma for Medium posts then there is for industry nepotism. I think it should be the other way around.