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Jezebel and the Case of Disappearing Feminist Digital Media

Marie Williams Chant Dec 5, 2023 4 Minute Read

The recent announcement of the feminist blog Jezebel’s shutter by G/O Media—and subsequent purchase by Paste Magazine—leads to various digital preservation-related questions. In the face of shifting forms and funding models for digital media, how can we ensure that the significant properties of born-digital feminist media remain intact and accessible over time?

On November 9, 2023, G/O Media announced the suspension of Jezebel, laying off all staff and ending a sixteen-year run of pioneering feminist commentary. Much has been written about the site’s closure, from the perspective of former staffers to the unsustainability of online media business models. Though it was announced that Paste magazine purchased the site last week, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is out of the woods. It highlights a pervasive problem: the feminist internet, a place for activism and experimentation, is disappearing with little traces left for the future, an issue we are starting to tackle with our newest program, Preserving the Feminist Internet.
In recent years, we’ve seen the shuttering of Bitch Media, Feministing, The Hairpin, Feminist Frequency, Lenny Letter, and Rookie, among other feminist digital media sites. In addition, feminist verticals from Vice and Slate were rolled into their main sites, leaving little trace of their original formats and, in some cases, causing link rot as an unintended consequence of strategy shifts. Most of these publications cited the unfriendly business model for digital media and the struggle to run financially sustainable online news sources as the root cause of either their closure.
In addition, other business decisions have led to significant digital preservation issues, such as the decision from G/O Media to remove images from all content published before 2019 on the former Gawker Media sites, including Jezebel and The Onion. This management choice changed how the content archives function for site visitors. For example, seeing this article with the images archived in the Wayback Machine versus without pictures on the live Jezebel website changes how the piece was intended to be read and received by audiences.
The volatility in digital media—as evidenced not only by the examples listed above, but also recent layoffs in the field, and ever-changing and shifting technologies, lay bare the multifarious and complex issues around preserving feminist digital media.

Incompatible Bedfellows: Maintenance and Digital Media

At its core, online media exists in an ecosystem that prioritizes immediacy and virality over maintenance. The decreasing number of dedicated information professionals within these settings and the increasing technological complexity add wrinkles to the process and often mean that critical infrastructure, such as content management systems or cloud servers, is confused with digital preservation. These maintenance gaps mean that significant content is in precarious preservation scenarios.
In addition, digital rights management strategies employed by news organizations make it increasingly difficult to preserve content or to build trust between memory workers and content producers. Though understandable in the context of profit margins, the innate desire to protect copyrighted material tightens control over access. With little to no digital preservation within these organizations, web content is at even greater risk.

In 2019, the Columbia Journalism Review published a comprehensive report by Sharon Ringel and Angela Woodall entitled “A Public Record at Risk: The Dire State of News Archiving in the Digital Age” which paints a stark image of the archival practices of organizations that publish news online. Ringel and Woodall’s comprehensive view on the topic found the following—

  • 90% of news outlets interviewed had not considered basic strategies to preserve their web content.
  • The other 10% had strategies that did not necessarily ensure long-term access to materials, considering technological shifts.
  • News organizations are primarily shifting the onus of preservation to external organizations, of which most, sans the Internet Archive, do not have an imperative to stick to archival or journalistic standards.
  • Local, independent, and alternative news sources are most at risk of being lost, ensuring the public record isn’t wholly representative.
  • Digital-only news sources tend to have less awareness of these issues.
  • Partnerships between archivists, creators, memory institutions, and news organizations are critical to establishing best practices.
These statistics drive our work to preserve feminist activism and cultural content on the web through collaborative partnerships with feminist creators, as we want to ensure that crucial feminist activity is available for future consumption.

Facilitating Feminist Partnerships through Preserving the Feminist Internet

Preserving the Feminist Internet is, at its heart, collaborative partnerships between The Feminist Institute and feminist creators to guide them through capturing web content and considering creative techniques for preserving other born-digital content. We proactively contact potential partners with culturally important feminist content and ask that they opt in with explicit permission. We then collaboratively work together to archive their born-digital presences thoroughly. Web captures are made available in our digital archive, and web archives and other digital files are also shared with creators for inclusion in their personal or organizational digital archives.
Know of a feminist digital initiative in need of preservation? Email us at