Cosmopolitan.com hires Jill Filipovic, burnishes feminist cred

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Jill Filipovic (left), on the beat in Cameroon. (Via jillfilipovic.com)
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Nicole Levy

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Betting that articles about restrictions on women's reproductive rights are just as shareable as slideshows of cleavage at its best, Cosmopolitan.com has hired feminist writer Jill Filipovic to cover politics, particularly the impact of policy on women's rights.

Filipovic, who has been freelancing for the website for the last few months, partly from Brazil, begins as a full-time senior writer at the Hearst Tower May 1, Capital has learned.

"Someone who reads Cosmopolitan.com is going to be interested in fashion and makeup and sex tips," said the editor of the feminist blog Feministe and Guardian columnist. "But a lot of those same women are interested in what's going on ... with women's rights and what's going on with elections and foreign policy."

Cosmopolitan.com came to Filipovic's attention on Facebook, where she noticed more and more friends posting "serious political and feminist content" from a site mocked by some for headlines like "Guess the Olympic Bulge": stories such as a collection of six women's accounts of encounters with abortion clinic protesters and a feature about female genital mutilation in the U.S.

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Cosmopolitan.com editor Amy Odell said she has made it a priority to expand her website's coverage of political issues affecting its readership since she arrived from Buzzfeed last September; the editorial strategy certainly hasn't hurt Cosmopolitan.com's traffic, which, according to internal metrics supplied by Cosmopolitan.com nearly doubled from 13 million unique visitors in August to more than 25 million in March.

"I think it's really important talking to an audience of millennial women to find a way to get them to connect to these issues that are sadly so prevalent in our country today and around the world," Odell said.

Filipovic is the latest hire in an effort thus far supported primarily by contributions from freelance writers. For executive features editor Lori Fradkin, who came to Cosmopolitan.com last December, personal anecdotes are the most enticing lure for the website's readers. "One of the things we've been able to do is show how political issues are actually personal issues," she said. Lots of outlets report on court rulings and government legislation, she said, but Cosmo's team of freelancers has shown how these decisions affect its readers "by telling real women's stories."

Appealing to readers' empathy is nothing new for women's media, but Odell said she believes that Filipovic's original reporting and analysis on women's issues will bring something unique to the increasingly crowded feminist blogosphere.

"I think it's really easy to sit at your desk and be angry about these things, which we all are, and have an opinion, and share your opinion with the world, but it's a lot harder to go out and find the women who are suffering because of these issues," she said.

Filipovic, who wrote a story about the lie a woman told to get a legal abortion in Brazil on Cosmo earlier this month, will continue reporting from abroad. (Filipovic has spent the last three weeks reporting in Brazil on a fellowship with the International Reporting Project.)

"I want her to showcase the absolute the best of what she can do, and to me that's longform... and that's getting her out in the field," said Odell, who first worked with Filipovic when they edited the Washington Square News as students at New York University.

Odell and Fradkin said the responses to their websites's reported political pieces have been promising so far. The story "Six Women on the Terrifying, Infuriating Encounters with Abortion Clinic Protesters" has been shared from Cosmopolitan.com to Facebook 29,837 times as of last night. "I think a lot of people are inclined to look for serious reporting on Cosmo," Odell said, "but organizations like Planned Parenthood will tweet out our stories or post them to Facebook."

"We are thrilled to see that Cosmo is making such an effort to inform their readers about access to birth control, equal pay and safe and legal abortion," Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards said of her nonprofit in a statement emailed to Capital. "Their thoughtful coverage is making a huge difference in the way young women digest and understand these complex conversations happening in Washington, DC and in state houses across the country."

In the coming months, Filipovic said she will focus her coverage on the outcomes of restrictions on reproductive rights in the U.S. and abroad, the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act, and the U.S. midterm elections.

"I think that maybe on its face it can seem like a slightly unorthodox move, but ... women's magazines have a really interesting tradition of publishing some great, often overlooked content about women's health and politics." Cosmopolitan.com presents, she added, "the opportunity to reach an enormous and already engaged readership that maybe wouldn't be seeking out my work otherwise."

Filipovic's voice won't be the only new addition to Cosmopolitan.com; the site will continue to expand and add staff, Odell said.

 

CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this article implied that Filipovic had been reporting from Brazil for several months. She has only been there for three weeks.