Many young adults have become familiar with the lean, high-heeled silhouette of a woman who dons the masthead of theSkimm, a free, daily newsletter boasting the slogan: “We read. You Skimm.” She rests comfortably on the letters of the site, dressed in pearls and reading what seems to be a tablet. The figure represents the audience that co-founders Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin are attempting to reach through their platform, which reaches the inboxes of over one million subscribers each morning. While theSkimm aims to make news more accessible and less time-consuming for readers, its gendered approach, overly conversational tone and inappropriate use of jokes infantilize female readers and trivialize often tragic and serious news. Unfortunately, theSkimm is representative of a larger trend in which hard news is glamorized and abbreviated for readability, promoting the idea that millennials, specifically women, will only engage with news that is “easy” and relatable.
The newsletter is divided into categories such as “Quote of the Day,” “The Story” and “Repeat After Me,” among others. These categories have subheadings that are supposed to relate to a news story and seem to mimic the tone that a reader would use toward a girlfriend in casual conversation. Examples include, “What to say when your roommate keeps locking herself out of her room,” which somehow segues into an explanation of the Japanese recession, and “What to say when your dad says he dropped one of the pies,” in reference to the trial of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times by a white cop. While humor can be a useful way to reach an audience, theSkimm often inappropriately uses frivolous or “Betches”-esque banter to address harrowing events. This is particularly tasteless given that the newsletter only broaches each topic.
More problematic is the use of “girly” rhetoric in a publication that bills itself as easy to read, conflating the supposed interests of women with unintelligence or a short attention span. The slim woman in the logo is the first thing a “Skimm’r” sees, and the clear pandering to young, privileged, educated, wine-drinking, pop-culture-consuming women pervades every corner of the site. The “About Us” section of their website — which explains the friendship, or “romance” as they describe it, between Weisberg and Zakin and their goals for the start-up — includes references to their “struggle” to order Italian food while traveling in Rome, their love of fried artichokes and the amount of white wine it took to create the publication. While many of their readers may be able to relate to these pleasures, the allusions are all typically “girly” and undeniably expensive. By solely addressing a financially privileged group of women, theSkimm allows for already-entitled women to put in minimal effort in understanding their advantages. The site essentially promotes a lazy brand of citizenship and education.
This abridged approach to sharing news is not unique to theSkimm; it’s representative of the way media and politicians market news to millennials. Amid the BBC push-notifications, trending Facebook articles and an endless stream of updates on the March 28 EgyptAir hijack, Al-Hayat columnist Joyce Karam tweeted: “#Egypt hijacked [plane emoji]: Airbus 320, with more than 80 passengers.” The post was retweeted by several journalists, including reporters representing the New York Times and The Huffington Post.
It’s also reminiscent of Hillary Clinton’s August tweet asking users to describe their feelings about their student loan debt in “three emojis or less.” Despite the myriad emojis from which users could choose, the general sentiment in response to Clinton was that there are some issues too broad and too serious to be embodied by a cartoon skull or crying cat. By reducing the public conversation around issues like college debt to a muted, abbreviated interaction, respondents missed out on an opportunity to fully develop their ideas and share their experiences. Additionally, the tweet trivialized the experience of students for whom student debt presents real and tangible obstacles to obtaining an education. While, for nearly a decade, Clinton has had more genuine discussions regarding college debt and has spearheaded a $350 billion college affordability” plan, the idea that her campaign thought it most strategic to ask Twitter users — who are primarily millennials — for their thoughts via emoji indicates the particular way young adults and especially women are perceived to be uninterested in anything aside from abbreviated, image-heavy content.
And there may be some truth to that. theSkimm has 1.5 million subscribers and it continues to grow. In addition, the newsletter has garnered support (and financing) from prominent and influential celebrities, such as Oprah and Chelsea Handler. The newsletter is also supported by “Skimm’bassadors,” readers who promote the site through their own social media platforms and encourage their friends to sign up. There is no denying Weisberg and Zakin’s creativity in harnessing quick media and integrating it into their business model. They are smart, experienced women who know what other privileged millennial women will be interested in. They do include hyperlinks citing other outlets, such as the New York Times and CNN, that enable Skimm’rs to get a broader story. Clearly, a digestible news outlet is a rational business venture in targeting the modern consumer, but the problem lies mainly in the gendered way information is presented, as well as the way their narrow-minded rhetoric makes light of bleak news events. The culture of theSkimm encourages political and social negligence by enabling smart young women to simply “skim” news instead of dedicating time to thoroughly informing themselves.
TheSkimm, among other sites, thrives off of the assumption that young women do not have the time or interest to read the news in depth. With every flippant word, emoji and reference to “drunch,” the news is trivialized and women themselves are being diminished to gossip-oriented, shallow members of society, who do not and cannot take themselves seriously. Millennial women should not subscribe to or perpetuate this perception of themselves. Instead, we should dedicate the time and energy that real news requires, even if that takes time away from our couch-sitting and wine-drinking. At the very least, if you are already a Skimm devoteé, click on the hyperlinks.
Jane Drinkard is a junior Spanish major. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Chloe Woodruff is a senior Urban and Environmental Policy major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bravo–this is a very thoughtfully written piece, and echoes my sentiments exactly. Thank you for showing that the target demographic is not made up of such a depressing population as it would appear does exist by those who subscribe to this odious “news” vehicle.