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Two major casualties of the economic downturn: Newspapers are dying, and women’s faces are aging. Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported on the very unpretty decline in plastic surgery procedures since the recession hit, breaking the not-for-attribution news that “plastic surgeons from the Southland to South Florida said some colleagues are struggling to stay in business.” News of the beauty industry’s rough times came on the dime of another flagging enterprise—the bankrupt Los Angeles Times slashed another 300 jobs in January.
But what if newspaper employees and face lifters could somehow work together to save one another?
Enter the Washington Women’s Journal, an “Educational Newspaper Serving the Women of Washington, D.C.” The WWJ, which began publishing last summer with a claimed readership of 250,000, is one of the newest papers in the mammoth Women’s Journal franchise, an operation spawned in 1969 by Bob Kapke that has since grown to several hundred papers nationwide. But the Women’s Journal is not just any educational newspaper for women: It is the “#1 Educational Newspaper for Women in the United States, according to a survey by U.S. World and Review.”
That accolade, like the rest of the paper’s content, results from a certain relaxation of reportorial standards. Kapke explains that the U.S. World and Review was “a library service based out of New Mexico back in the ’70s.” The “survey,” conducted in 1972, was informal: “We asked the guy for a quote, and he gave it to us,” Kapke says.
Kapke won’t reveal much more about the paper’s business model—“every chain in the country is trying to copy what we’re doing,” he says. But the strategy is right on the page. Instead of placing ads around expensive content created by reporters and editors, the Women’s Journal places ads for local businesses around…other ads for those businesses, mocked up to look like editorial content. Typical stories, written by the business owners themselves, will apprise the reader of an exciting new trend in beauty, medicine, or fashion, before gently nudging her toward patronizing whatever local business is funding the ad:
“Given that these are relatively new procedures with few true experts performing them, you should be careful when selecting a plastic surgeon.”
“If you are not afraid of living, then why haven’t you gone to your health care provider to get that mass checked out?”
“Contact Clean Sweep for information about chimney inspection and cleaning services.”
That concept is sold to a closely targeted demographic: women.
Tara Pannell, who began publishing the Washington, Baltimore, and Prince George’s County editions of the paper out of her home last year, is one of the latest to jump on the femme advertorial bandwagon. Pannell, a 40-year-old mother of two with “a weakness for diva heels,” called the Women’s Journal’s 800 number after trying her hand as a real-estate agent, Verizon middle-management, and an extra on such television shows as Homicide: Life on the Street (career highlight: stretching to play a “dirty crackhead”).
Now, Pannell’s three papers blanket the Washington area with articles from contributors like aqua chi foot therapists, varicose vein busters, cosmetic vagina surgeons, and other luxury business owners not getting much recession-era love from the mainstream press. The contributors, of course, are advertisers who pay Pannell to write for her publication: Ads range from $45 to $1,350, Pannell says.
But Pannell insists that the flipped content model can provide even more enriching stories for women readers than the traditional journalistic scheme. “I do a lot of networking with professional women, and we know what we’re interested in reading about,” says Pannell. “I know that women work really hard to get the letters behind their names, to gain the expertise, and to run their business. I give them the opportunity to showcase themselves. We challenge them to write objectively and educationally about their areas of interest,” she says.
Indeed, few journalists could tackle the challenge faced by contributor Ricardo L. Rodriguez, MD, who penned the April/May 2009 cover story, “Brazilian Butt Lift. What Is It?” Rodriguez was tasked with remaining objective when discussing why women should pay Ricardo L. Rodriguez, MD, to remove the excess fat from their bodies and inject it back into their own asses.
“[V]ery few of us have backsides that defy gravity. Perkiness decreases with age and even inactivity—the reason you see many young women in their twenties with sagging buttocks!” Rodriguez writes, before providing his professional medical opinion on how to remedy the matter: “I first contour the buttocks by performing liposuction in the surrounding areas….I then carefully purify the fat in a centrifuge to obtain only the best donor fat cells to re-inject into your buttocks for augmentation.”
To Pannell, Rodriguez’s work is an example of the model’s success. “At first, he told me he did this thing called the ‘Brazilian Butt Lift.’ And I was like, what is that? You know? What in the world is a butt lift? Why would anybody want their butt lifted?” says Pannell. “Now, after reading his article—wow. I can understand.”
It’s an education women need even in the worst recession in their lifetimes. “Women are interested in looking good, no matter what’s happening, I don’t think that that will change,” she says. “I saw a lady the other day—she was a cougar, but she had these jeans that 20-year-olds wear, hip-huggers that I see my daughter wearing,” says Pannell. “You could tell she wanted to be a hot momma. But there was no butt for the jeans!” Pannell says. “She needed a butt, period. And I was like wow—I wonder if that lady knows she can get a butt?”
Pannell does the bulk of the design, sales, editing, and even distribution work herself (she claims to circulate the paper wearing 4-inch stilettos). As a result, there are, of course, kinks in the Women’s Journal’s production. Half of the table of contents leads to dead ends. Headlines, like “Hazel Chung, Director of Ohashiatsu Maryland. Who is she?” could use a second eye. One item, “Diabetic Foot,” is attributed to “NIH,” and is simply a pasted version of the National Institute of Health’s explanation of the illness.
Pannell says she received significant negative feedback on just one issue, for a simple typo: “When we first published, the title of the whole newspaper accidentally read Washington D.C. County Women’s Journal. We actually got, like, 500 calls about that one.”
The Washington Women’s Journal contributors. Who are they?
Expert No. 1: Deborah Franz, “What is Aqua Chi?”
Qualifications: “Before adding Aqua Chi to her regimen, she used the following Nikken products to manage her health: magnets, magnetic sleep system, far infrared products, ionic air purification and magnetized water.”
Why Buy: “The real reason for not healing is that your body is running out of energy! The Aqua Chi Machine is a water energy system used to re-balance and amplify your body’s bio electric field enabling the body to heal itself, by creating specific electromagnetic frequencies and harmonics, which are transmitted to the body through the water medium.”
Objectivity: “The Aqua Chi is not a cure for any medical condition…It is not recommended for pregnant women or people who have battery operated implants such as pacemakers, by people with organ transplants, or by hemophiliacs.”
Expert No. 2: Elliece Smith, M.D., “Vaginal Rejuvenation Revisited”
Qualifications: “Since my previous article on vaginal rejuvenation, apparently there has been some confusion concerning the difference between vaginal rejuvenation and labial trimming.”
Minor Indulgence: “Many women have long, floppy labial lips that they were born with and that have no relationship to childbirth. Sometimes women who have never had babies have long, floppy labia. These long labial lips may occasionally cause discomfort during exercise, cause urine to splatter during urination, or may even get in the way during sex, causing the woman to request that they be trimmed down. At other times, the long labia are not really causing a problem, but the woman herself doesn’t consider them ‘cute.’”
Objectivity: “If you are planning to have both vaginal rejuvenation and G-spot injection, I suggest that you not have them done at the same time. The healing time for vaginal rejuvenation is approximately six weeks, during which time you should not have sexual intercourse. If you have the G-spot injection done at the same time as the vaginal rejuvenation, you will be wasting approximately six weeks worth of benefit from the G-spot injection.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery