Washington’s Lady Journos Have Been Here All Along

Lady journo Ann Friedman, now the executive editor of GOOD magazine, at work on an angry blog post.

One sweltering DC evening many months ago, Ann Friedman, 29, then an editor for The American Prospect, sat with her friends Annie Lowrey, a reporter for Slate; Suzy Khimm and Kate Sheppard, reporters for Mother Jones; Marin Cogan, a reporter for Politico; Phoebe Connelly, a freelance writer and former web editor for The American Prospect; Britt Peterson, an editor at Foreign Policy; Dayo Olopade, a writer for The Daily Beast, Kay Steiger and Shani Hilton, editors at Campus Progress; Kat Aaron, a reporter for the Investigative Reporting Workshop; Monica Potts, a blogger for The American Prospect; Amanda Terkel, a reporter for The Huffington Post; and Laura McGann and Sara Libby, editors for Politico, at a bar on U Street. Ms. Friedman spoke about her younger — well, relatively younger — days in the city.

“Everyone’s gotten a little bit older and a little more tired of being constantly rendered invisible,” Ms. Friedman said, speaking of a wave of Washington women journalists who have come of age together. “Four years ago, we were fact-checking and editing these male pundits, along with creating award-winning work of our own. None of that has changed.”

In only a few years, these young women and others like them have become part of the journalistic establishment in Washington — but you wouldn’t know it from reading The New York Times. Once they lived in modest studio apartments and stayed out late, talking about grammar, feminist theory, and ready-to-wear collections while their male counterparts appeared on cable television. Now the members of this “DC lady mafia,” as they began calling themselves because no newspaper style section deigned to give them a nickname, have become destination reading for — and respected by — the city’s power elite. Indeed, arguably they are themselves approaching power-elite status.

“I look at those gals and call them ‘invisipundits,’ ” said a Washington hostess type. “They’ve risen up the media food chain. They’re acknowledged by the White House. But they still can’t get any recognition as a group that is working collectively to further each others’ careers!”

There is precedent for such women being ignored as attention focuses on packs of smart, self-important young men in capital cities. It’s called all of history.

Of course, Washington is not and never will be a feminist utopia. In a city where male journalists still get away with sexual harassment and the glass ceiling is still firmly in place at many publications, the scene these young women inhabit is as foreign as Mars. It’s not uncommon to spot them in packs, swilling whiskey at Dodge City or elbowing bros out of the way at new spots like American Ice Company.

“This should be the age of the woman journalist, liberated by the new media,” one prominent female media scion wrote in an e-mail. “But any woman in the younger generation who yearns to be recognized has got another thing coming.”

That hasn’t stopped journalistic outlets from relying on them. Often working behind the scenes and far from the glare of the Twitter stream, these women are starting to build public reputations. But it’s slow going.

“I came here, and I had no professional affiliation,” Ms. Hilton, 26, said over boxed wine at a friend’s house, a decidedly cheap place to socialize when your salary is stagnant. “I was just a contributor to a group blog, but I came out here and was trained as a magazine writer and editor. You made calls. People answered calls. You took down what was said in a respectable account, and that began to influence my work. But it was never a ‘Shani affair.’”

Being in the DC lady mafia doesn’t protect its members from sexism.

“A male journalist once came to my desk and showed me a video of himself in a state of undress,” said one woman who asked not to be named. “No, he did not get in trouble for it.” Another explained how she had to demand the word “senior” be appended to her title, a reward that was simply handed to a male colleague without a fight. Yet another mentioned how she was called a “flirt” by a man she was editing in a decidedly non-flirtatious manner.

In an ending worthy of “The Breakfast Club,” Ms. Friedman now lives in Los Angeles, far from the DC journo scene. Ms. Olopade is working on a book in Nairobi. Ms. Lowrey is engaged to Ezra Klein, a 26-year-old blogger for The Washington Post.

But Ms. Hilton noted that the DC lady mafia remains intact. “Our weekly trivia team is killing it,” she said.

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