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Cross-post: Start your own b(r)and: Everything I know about starting collaborative, feminist publications

This is a cross-post from Amelia Greenhall’s blog.

I am very hopeful that other intersectional feminist tech publications – possibly many others – will start in the coming year. This blog post is my way of supporting these nascent publications: an offering of everything I’ve learned about starting and running publishing companies.

After I wrote a blog post (What it was like to co-found Model View Culture with Shanley Kane) that disclosed that my business partner had been emotionally and verbally abusive, a number of people who had written for Model View Culture wrote nuanced, thoughtful pieces about it. (Links at the end.) In particular, Amelia Abreu wrote “Now start yr own band: on relationships, trauma, and tech feminism”. The last sentence of her essay really resonated with me:

“To borrow an old riot grrrl catchphrase, “Now start yr own band”. I neither want nor need to be aligned with a movement that is led unilaterally, and I also have no problem supporting those who need to control their own visions. We have the momentum, so now let’s start a bunch of new conversations and some new venues for them.”

At the moment, I have no interest in (or time for) starting another intersectional feminist tech publication, but I do possess a lot of knowledge about what goes into running one. I have pulled it all together here in hopes that it will help people who are considering starting a new publication. Here’s my (California/USA-flavored) advice on publishing, collaborating, budgeting, business incorporating, working with lawyers, being profitable, and anything else I thought was both important and non-obvious. I also asked Valerie Aurora (co-founder of The Ada Initiative and one of the women I co-founded Double Union with) to contribute to this article, including the sections on incorporation, choosing a founder, choosing a board of directors and advisors, making a budget, and raising money.

May this be of use.

— Amelia Greenhall (@ameliagreenhall), San Francisco, January 2015

Thank you to Amelia Abreu and Marlena Compton for the title of this post. And if you do start seriously thinking about it and want to do a phone call, ask questions or simply say hello, please send me an email: hello@ameliagreenhall.com).

Let’s talk Google docs

It’s one of those subtle things so I want to talk about it first: plain old Google Docs might be one of the key factors to your new publication’s success. I have been in love with making publications since I could write and draw, and have worked on or started about twenty different ones – newsletters, magazines, many many many ‘zines, student newspapers, yearbooks, the college humor paper, a literary journal. But Google Docs is what really made it click for me: collaborative writing was suddenly possible in real time.

By the time Google took the beta label off of Docs in 2009 I had been heavily using Docs to collaborate on writing and editing essays, short fiction, and stories with friends. There was something new and fresh and easy about being able to drop a link to someone in email and have them edit the document – even in real time at the same time as you. This felt revolutionary and eventually inspired me, my husband, and a writing collaborator of ours to start the Open Review Quarterly in 2010, which we have been publishing a few times a year ever since. Here is the process that we developed, (and that I adapted for Model View Culture and several collaborative zines):

  1. Make a Google Docs folder for the organization
  2. Within that, make an “Issues” folder
  3. Within the “Issues” folder make a folder for each issue, using a naming convention that has numbers in it so they are ordered correctly (for example: “ORQ13_Schemes” for the 13th issue’s folder)
  4. In the current issue’s folder, create a document for each author who agrees to write for the issue, using a naming convention that makes sense to you (for example: “ORQ13_First_Last”)
  5. Share that document with the author so that they can edit it and send them a link.
  6. Have the author drop their first draft in the document
  7. Collaboratively edit, using the appropriate Gdocs editing mode (under “View” -> “Mode”): “suggested edits” for wording changes, plain old “edit mode” to fix typos, and liberal use of Gdocs’ comments
  8. Use email to communicate about bigger picture issues

With some people, you will build up enough trust that you can fully co-write with them: directly adding to and rewriting their work, with only occasional use of comments or suggested edits. Leigh Honeywell, with whom I have done a lot of co-writing and editing, left me a comment when she edited this section. It captures what I love about collaborative editing:

“Gdocs are amazing. I get this feeling when a bunch of friendly folks edit one of my docs that’s like getting fussed over at a beauty salon. Care and attention that’s focused on making you look ahhhhmazing. It’s pretty great.”

Pay your authors

Put the biggest part of your budget towards your authors, because they are the most important part of your publication.

When we started MVC, we budgeted to pay at least $100/piece for features. So some initial math might look like: 10 authors/issue * 1 issue/every 3 weeks = 150 pieces/year => $100 * 150 = $15k in author payments minimum. (More on budgeting and raising that money later.) Personally, I think $500 is a good minimum as a reasonable compensation for a writer’s time on an article-length piece, and had hoped to get to that point with MVC, for a total of $500 * 150 = $75k / year in payments.

You can do your own math for how you imagine your publication – maybe you do an issue every two weeks, only have 3 pieces per issue, take some holiday breaks and therefore only publish 20 issues a year. You decide you want to pay authors $200/piece minimum when you’re getting started. Your math is: 20 issues/year * 3 pieces/issue * $200/piece = $12,000 in author payments your first year.

I was sad when authors were surprised/pleased at the $100 rate – several authors said that they had been paid $25-40 for similar work (they name dropped major publications) and that $100 was pretty standard in journalism-land. :( And then there is Bustle, which launched with job posts offering to pay women $100/day to write 4-6 pieces of content! :(( If you’ve ever thought: “Wow, the quality of MVC is so much higher than other sites!” our payment rates are probably one reason why.

I’d encourage you to use a spreadsheet to test out a bunch of different scenarios for payment vs. number of articles. Figure out where you want to be, and what you can swing with your initial budget. Try on different ideas for size until you find a plan that feels possible.

Let your authors keep copyright

Mainstream journalism is pretty abusive in many ways besides money, and one way that’s easy to push back through your feminist publication is by letting your authors keep copyright to their work. At MVC we settled on a “You keep copyright and can republish it however you like, we just ask that you don’t publish elsewhere it for 6 weeks to give the publication some exclusive time.” For the print quarterly we felt it was reasonable to extend the “exclusive, please don’t reprint” time longer, to 3-6 months, because the print edition was sold as an exclusive to subscribers. Letting your authors keep copyright lets them republish their work in compilations as well as letting them put it up on their own blog/portfolio as documentation of their work. And they might get to make extra money if they are asked to reprint it down the road!

Get contracts with your authors in writing

Cover, in writing, the things you are mutually agreeing on with an author. Good contracts make good business partners – they are clear and explicit, like boundaries. The contract should include:

  • the estimated timeline for first draft due date
  • the completion date and when it will go to press
  • the payment for the work, the copyright
  • how it will be published (online, in print, etc)
  • how the company will have rights to publish it again in the future in other forms (you might want to publish a “best of” compilation later)
  • if you want rights to use their name and photo on a ‘contributors’ section of the site
  • how profits will be dealt with, if another publication wants to pay to reprint the piece
  • some sort of statement of your mutual intent to work together in good faith and communicate well

Make this into a one or one-and-a-half page pdf that’s formatted to be nice and readable – you will re-use the main version over and over, and then update the contract to suit special cases. Have your lawyer look over it, because this will be the record of your right to have the content on your site and other media. Don’t let (too much) legalese sneak in the contract – keep in mind this is mostly a working document to come to agreement on the terms and timeline.

You should use software to make it easier to send pdfs to people to sign; I like HelloSign because it is well integrated with google docs and email. Get the contract signed and agreed upon within a few days of the author agreeing to write for your publication.

Recommendation: HelloSign

Spreadsheets for keeping track of contributor status

Spreadsheets are also surprisingly important for collaborative publishing. Making a shared spreadsheet (using Google Sheets, naturally) for each issue is the best way I’ve found to keep track of the status of each author’s piece – mostly, you need to have a column for the author’s name and a column for their status. (Status column might contain things like: asked them to write/they submitted a pitch, confirmed via email, have their contributor’s agreement, have first draft, first draft edits returned to them, second edits returned to them, final copyedits, good to go, published.)

I suggest that you check this spreadsheet at the beginning and end of each work day and make sure you have done all the emailing you need to do to move things forwards. Over time, you’ll figure out what else you want to track in this spreadsheet – I usually keep a column called “piece description” and another called “editor” for the person who’s the main point of contact for the author. Having a shared spreadsheet lets you see at a glance who’s doing what and saves a lot of time communicating between editors (beyond just keeping you on track with doing the right thing at the right time).

Make a budget from the start

Making a budget – even if it turns out to be wildly inaccurate – is an important and encouraging thing to do when you are starting out. If you enjoy creating budgets and making spreadsheets, you can skip to the next paragraph. If you are the kind of person who feels nervous about planning for the future or dealing with money, getting started on the budget might be hard but in the end it makes you feel more secure. Sit down with your co-founder(s) or a trusted friend, get a cup of warm tea and some snacks, and start making stuff up. Google Sheets makes it easy to co-edit a budget together and helps you get over the inertia of a blank page. When you’re done, reward yourselves with a celebration of some sort: a glass of your favorite drink, a dessert, you favorite guilty pleasure TV show.

What to put in a budget? Everything you can think of, plus padding of about 30% for things you didn’t think of. Good things to include are:

Expenses:

  • Legal fees
  • Office rent & security deposits
  • Hosting fees
  • Software license fees
  • Business registration fees
  • Printing costs
  • Postage
  • Schwag costs (t-shirt printing, stickers, etc.)
  • Your salaries
  • Payments to authors
  • Bookkeeper & accountant
  • Insurance (for events, offices)
  • Travel (including conference attendance)
  • Business meals
  • Event expenses
  • Office equipment & supplies (printers, paper, etc.)
  • Furniture & art
  • Repayment of loans

Income:

  • Subscriptions
  • Investments/loans
  • Donations
  • Event revenue
  • Sponsorships
  • Schwag sales
  • Consulting fees
  • Speaking fees
  • Donations in kind (account for these even though they aren’t cash)

A useful way to structure your budget is to split up the budget by months and record expected income and expenses in each month, then calculate the business’s total cash at the end of the month – this is your cash flow on a monthly basis. Keep updating the budget with your actual revenue and expenses (“actuals”) and you’ll have a good sense of when your bank account will be in crisis.

Find a co-founder

You need a co-founder or two. Co-founders keep you going when you are having doubts, bring skills you may not have, help you develop ideas and work out problems, and emotionally support you. I have many amazing and long-lasting co-founder partnerships and know it can be done right for publishing. Of course, I’d advise you not to do as I did with MVC, and co-found with someone you’ve only known for a few weeks – trust your intuition and don’t override it with the excitement that you’ve found someone who’s willing to co-found with you. Your gut feelings are important, and if there are little red flags getting thrown up, take the time to investigate them. Talk to other people you trust about your potential co-founder before you commit.

Things that are commonly good signs in a potential co-founder include:

Morals

  • Extremely conscientious about small things (that $5 they owe you, giving credit properly, correcting mistakes that are in their favor)
  • A strong sense of guilt and desire to not let others down
  • Has apologized in public or owned up to their mistakes before

Collaboration

  • A track record of collaborating with other people on joint projects
  • Reliable – usually they do what they say they will, and if they can’t, they tell you so ASAP
  • It’s easy to meet up or talk on the phone – you are a priority for them
  • Their first reaction to mistakes is to figure out how to prevent them in the future, rather than assigning blame

Compatibility

  • A feeling of ease when you are around them or communicating with them
  • If they learn they hurt someone, they immediately validate that person’s feelings and find ways to make it right (whether or not they were in the wrong)
  • Similar ideas about what is worth spending money on and what is not
  • Similar tolerance for financial risk
  • Shared values in many areas

Talent & interest

  • Passionate about the subject of your venture for many years
  • Good at things you that you are weak in (e.g., finances, coding, people skills)
  • Willing to let go of a thing that isn’t working so they can do a new thing that does work
  • Able to prioritize your joint venture above things that aren’t as important (e.g., requests for free work from colleagues) but below things that are more important (having a life outside work, spending time with family)

Connected socially (optional if you have these things)

  • Introduces you to their friends and colleagues willingly and eagerly
  • Often organizes social events (buy tickets to the movie, invite people to dinner, etc.)
  • Has a large personal network of people who can help with your company

A lot of the advice in books about romantic relationships will apply to a co-founder relationship. Reading books about making decisions about whether to stay in romantic relationships are especially useful. The following books are very heterocentric and oriented towards middle and upper class white straight women, but can be adapted to co-founder relationships fairly easily: “Why Does He Do That?,” “Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay,” and “Is He Mr. Right?” (worst title ever, give it a read anyway).

Incorporation: why and how to do it

You may view becoming a corporation with suspicion or concern. After all, many of the ills of modern life – and in particular, the kinds of oppression a feminist publication would be fighting – are aided and abetted by corporations. However, we live within a system in which individuals have a great disadvantage compared to corporations. Corporations are actually a really neat and clever form of legal organization that protects the individuals forming it, and you should take advantage of their benefits! In particular, corporations give you a layer of protection from liability and debts that you can’t get without incorporation.

What kind of corporation should you become?

The first question many people ask is: should I be a for-profit or a non-profit? Having recently finished doing the hundreds of hours of work it took us to complete Double Union’s 1023 filing (the epic form that the IRS wants your 501(c)(3) non-profit to fill out to be granted tax-exempt status) I can say with finality: starting for-profits is several orders of magnitudes easier than starting a non-profit. (More on B-corps and similar later.)

Also, if you decide to be a non-profit you’ll run into the problem of having two jobs that Sue Gardner wrote about in “What is really wrong with non profits — and how we can fix it.”

Every nonprofit has two main jobs: you need to do your core work, and you need to make the money to pay for it. In the for-profit sector when you make better products, you make more money — if you make awesome socks, you sell lots of socks. Paying attention to revenue makes sense in part because revenue functions as a signal for the overall effectiveness of the org: if sales drop, that’s a signal your product may be starting to suck, or that something else is wrong.

Nonprofits also prioritize revenue. But for most it doesn’t actually serve as much of an indicator of overall effectiveness. That’s because donors rarely experience the core mission work first-hand — most people who donate to Médecins Sans Frontières, for example, have never lived in a war zone. That means that most, or often all, the actual experiences a donor has with a nonprofit are related to fundraising, which means that over time many nonprofits have learned that the donating process needs –in and of itself– to provide a satisfying experience for the donor. All sorts of energy is therefore dedicated towards making it exactly that: donors get glossy newsletters of thanks, there are gala dinners, they are elaborately consulted on a variety of issues, and so forth.

By contrast, when I buy socks I do not get a gala dinner. In fact it’s the opposite: the more that sockmakers focus relentlessly and obsessively on sock-making awesomeness, the likelier I am to buy their socks in future. This means that inside most of nonprofitland –and unique to nonprofitland– there’s a structural problem of needing to provide positive experiences for donors that is disconnected from the core work of the organization. This has a variety of unintended effects, all of which undermine effectiveness.

It’s a brilliant essay, you should read the rest of it.

Also, beware that women and other people doing diversity work often get advice along the lines of “be a non-profit, you’re doing a cause.” You can choose to focus all your energy on selling one thing – a thing that is good, for a profit – and still be a feminist. (I’m sure you weren’t worried but wait until you start talking to well-intentioned people.) Many media companies are for-profit; there is nothing inherently “non-profit-y” about an intersectional feminist one. My biggest worry about a non-profit media company is the problem of controlling what you publish once the subtle pressures of pleasing big donors are rolled into it all. I say “for profit all the way!” But you should do your own research and do what you want to do, and I support you 100% in your decision.

If you’re incorporating as a for-profit, you still have some more choices to make. In most cases, you will want to be a C-corporation. For a publication, this is the most common form of incorporation and the benefits of other forms of incorporation are unlikely to be significant. S-Corporations and LLCs are better suited to consulting or one-person businesses. There are new forms of incorporation that try to walk the line between for-profit and non-profit, such as various forms of benefit corporations now becoming popular in the United States. The main difference between a C-corp and B-corp is that the B-corp’s management has greater freedom to make decisions that further the corporations’ purpose even if it doesn’t maximize the profit for the shareholders. If your company will be owned by feminists anyway, a B-corp will only add complexity and cost for no benefit in many cases.

Find some money

You’re going to need money, if for no other reason than to pay the lawyers to get your incorporation right. Be creative and flexible about how you will fund your business, and recognize that your first plan will probably evolve a great deal. Keep in mind too that many businesses that serve new businesses are very flexible on their payment plans (lawyers in particular). This is a huge topic, so I’ll just touch on the high points.

The big picture on money is: use your money wisely and take it only from people that you are comfortable being accountable to or giving power to.

The best place to get startup money is your and your co-founders’ bank accounts, if that’s possible. Often the first step to starting a business is starting a savings account, long before you know what you will do or who you will do it with. If you and your co-founder(s) are socially connected and have a long track record of being responsible, creative, and talented, you almost certainly have a group of people who would love to help your venture succeed – and benefit from it themselves. If you’re lucky enough to have a good relationship with family members who have savings, you might be surprised how many of them want to get in on the ground floor of your business. You can decide sell these investors (and yourself) equity — there are all sorts of ways to do that – talk to your lawyer. Or you can decide that it is just a small loan that gets paid back first, put $3-10k in your corporate bank account, and then pay yourselves back as soon as you’ve launched and are profitable.

Finding Money II: Thoughts on Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is a great way both to raise seed money from people who support your mission and to advertise your new venture. Autostraddle’s indiegogo is a great example! However, crowdfunding is easy to do wrong. If there’s one thing you take away from this section, it should be: don’t offer any physical rewards for a gift of less than $50 ($100 or more is even better).

The cost of creating and shipping a physical object is astonishingly high. Even with all the best software and a state-of-the art label printer, you will find yourself fighting with address formatting, software bugs, envelopes with weak glue, a pile of leftover packing materials, running out of stamps, incredibly time-consuming customs forms, automatic data conversion that removes leading zeroes from zip codes, the post office losing an entire bag of mail containing your rewards, delivery drivers who can’t find addresses, backers who moved, people who want you to send them stickers even though they can’t afford to donate, the wrong t-shirt color, the wrong t-shirt sizes, printing errors, vendors who send you the wrong size pendants – the list goes on. And months after you ship the last reward, you still face the worst punishment of all: the enormous ULINE catalog that fills up your entire mailbox and makes the postal worker stop delivering your mail until you go in person to the post office to genuflect and pick up your mail (if they haven’t lost it already). And the catalog can’t be stopped except by calling ULINE on the phone during business hours several times until they really take you off their catalog mailing list.

Other tips for running a good crowdfunding campaign: line up people to blog and campaign for you before the campaign starts, choose the shortest possible duration (30 days at most, 20 days or fewer is good), set your initial goal for about 30% – 60% of what you think you can actually raise, don’t feel guilty about asking people for a higher gift, have stretch goals already defined and ready to go as soon as you hit the current goal, have hilarious and funny prizes for extremely large gifts (like the $50,000 meritocracy rug gift offered for Double Union), have lots of cheery exciting pictures featuring happy people, thank donors with a personal email and ask them why they decided to donate just now, and when donations slow down, spend time brainstorming new people to ask.

One of the hardest things to do as an activist raising money for a social good project is to understand what people are getting out of contributing to your project. Often we think that contributors are going to be watching over our shoulders and measuring our work, or will only contribute if they get something significant and costly in return. What people are really doing when they support your awesome project is getting the good feeling that comes from (1) acting in harmony with their beliefs (reducing cognitive dissonance), (2) knowing they helped make the world a better place. You don’t have to send them a detailed report with bar graphs hockey-sticking upwards or a hand-embroidered tote bag.

And one more thing: crowdfunding works best when you are launching a new venture, or making a big and exciting expansion. It isn’t suitable for long-term funding. If you plan to have a fundraising drive every year, you should be investigating the non-profit model and be aware of the pitfalls of over-focusing on fundraising and donor relationships, as noted in the post of Sue Gardner’s referenced earlier in this article.

Revenue models

When it comes to long-term revenue, be creative! Many of today’s publishing businesses are really a suite of related services and products – everything from books to t-shirts to events to speaking gigs. (Here’s an in-depth post on getting paid to speak from Geek Feminism.) It’s also relatively common for an early-stage startup to be supported by consulting income from one of the co-founders for a period of time (it usually can’t be the long-term plan, though).

Selling subscriptions to some kind of print edition or quarterly up front is one way to get some money in the door to cover your operating expenses and not have to front much money yourself (and for the company to be able pay you back for your “loans” quickly). You can think of subscriptions as an investment you are taking from many people: you owe the buyers books/magazines, which you pay off over time. Since each individual’s amount put in is relatively small ($50-100/year is a typical sales price for a small niche press subscription) the individual buyers don’t end up with undue influence over your business. More on selling and shipping physical objects later.

Ad-based per-pageview revenue?

You’ll have to think carefully about if you want to take on per-pageview ad-based revenue as part of your model. Otherwise you might end up like Bustle! O.o. (My fav quote from an article about their business model: “Another favorite Bustle approach is to take one news peg and publish contradictory opinions on the same event.”) But more seriously, a few downsides of ad-based revenue that I think are relevant to feminist publishing:

  • Harder to print long, thoughtful articles because of the timescales involved
  • Ad-based revenue seems to lend itself to “spray and pray” and churning out large amounts of smaller content
  • Harder to avoid the pressure to use clickbait headlines (Top 10 Ways to… You’ll Never Believe What…) and thus end up w/ clickbait article structures
  • You need to split your longer articles up into annoying 300-word chunks and make people click through 2-4 pages (and see more ads!)… but this means (especially on mobile) that people are less likely to actually read the whole article
  • Given a limited budget for content, you then can’t pay your authors as much per piece because you need more pieces

This doesn’t mean you can’t have ads, just that you should think carefully about how you price and sell them, and to whom. Again, the big picture on money is that you should think carefully about who you take money from: you should only take money from people you are comfortable being accountable to or giving power to.

Get a Lawyer

A surprising thing I have learned over the past few years: lawyers, accountants and bookkeepers are your friends. You should have one of each to start! You should have them on retainer and pay them to do things for you because they (a) actually know what needs to be done and (b) will actually do these things right. Besides knowing what needs to be done, they battle incredible amounts of bureaucracy for you (much of what needs to be done involves bureaucracy).

Every time I pay my lawyers, bookkeepers, and accountants I do a little happy dance of gratitude. It’s great to get to work with professional people who are competent at what they do. I like seeing how they save me from headaches down the road by doing things like setting the accounting categories up to be prepared for required state forms that need to be filled out in year 2. (I had no idea such forms existed until year 2, when suddenly that random-seeming accounting category made sense!) Professionals will know about the things you would never even imagine exist, and then your company will be ready for them.

When you decide to engage a lawyer to work for your company, you will sign something called an “engagement agreement”. This is a document that lays out the terms of your relationship, and will cover the scope of what they are representing you for, their obligations to you, confidentiality, how the agreement may be ended, and how you pay them. Generally, when you start working with a lawyer you will write them a check for what’s called an “initial retainer” which is money you give them in advance (perhaps on the order of a few thousand dollars for incorporation work). This money goes into an attorney/client trust account and the attorney bills your fees against the retainer as they do work for you. If you leave before the retainer money is used up, they are required to return the unspent part to you. As you keep working together on future projects you will figure out if/how to continue to top off the retainer account with fresh money.

I have a lawyer recommendations if you need one in SF – feel free to send me an email (hello@ameliagreenhall.com) if you’re looking for an intro.

What to expect when you are incorporating

You are starting a publication, and will need a lawyer to do boring yet incredibly important things for you – to start, you need to incorporate a company. Many companies incorporate in Delaware because the requirements for registering in that state are very low, and then register to do business with the city and state they’re actually in. (This is somewhat confusingly called “registering as a foreign business entity.” In this case, “foreign” = “out of state.”) Your lawyer will help make sure that the many things that need to be done get done, and in the right order, which is no easy task. Things that your lawyer will do for you when you are forming your entity might include:

  • Preparing the formation documents
  • Incorporating in Delaware, if you go with that
  • Drafting your bylaws
  • Drafting first meeting minutes (where you elect the board and give yourself permission to do all the things you’re doing, such as getting a bank and giving the CEO the power to make binding decisions for the company)
  • Registering the business with your state, the secretary of state, and the city
  • Preparing the fictitious business name statement and coordinating publishing it (often as a classified in the local newspaper)
  • Filing notice with your state’s department of corporations
  • Preparing indemnification agreements

They might also help you with getting a bank account set up or introduce you to other professionals like realtors, accountants, and bookkeepers.

Two bits of advice on choosing lawyers

  1. Do not do as we did for MVC and go with a $900/hr fancy startup lawyer, which was not worth it considering our needs at the time. From my more in depth research since then, $300-450/hr is the max you should pay for the work of incorporating a company. Several law firms that specialize in starting companies offer it as a package, for rates along the lines of $2-3k total. If you end up growing so much that your company needs a big, fancy law firm your lawyer will be able to help you with the transition.
  2. Do not try to save money by doing your own incorporation paperwork, as we did for Double Union. GET A LAWYER. Incorporating is tricky business requiring a lot of legalese comprehension and checking boxes. We found out that hard way that even if you think you understand and check the box that describes your company, you may actually be better off checking the box that does not seem to describe what you want, for some reason that lawyers know from experience but that you do not. (We later worked with a great non-profit law firm for the Double Union 1023 form and they fixed many small errors that we had made upon self-incorporation. Thankfully, all was well but it still cost us the lawyer time in the end.)

Get an accountant and a bookkeeper

Often your accountant and bookkeeper are separate businesses who work together remotely, though sometimes you get lucky and find a CPA firm that has bookkeeping capabilities. Ask your lawyer to send emails introducing you to a few that they recommend. Set up initial calls with the people who sound interesting: talk to them and ask questions about how they work, their fee structure, and anything else you want to know. You will be able to get a good sense from a phone call if you will enjoy working with this person – if you don’t get that sense, keep talking to other people. (If you do decide during the initial call that you want to engage this person, sleep on it and call them the next day to confirm.)

Here are questions to keep in mind when interviewing bookkeepers and accountants:

  • Do they use the accounting software you want to use (in my case, Xero not Quickbooks)?
  • Are they easy to talk to, and is there a feeling of mutual respect?
  • Do they seem to take pride and delight in doing their job well?
  • Are they good at (and patient with) explaining things until you have all your questions answered?

Also, for reference, my sense of rates in early 2015 San Francisco is: $50-75/hr range for bookkeepers, $250-350/hr range for accountants.

Get a registered agent

Registered agents accept legal documents and process of service (if you get sued) on your behalf and then forward them to you or deal with them. Other benefits of having a registered agent:

  • They keep track of all the things you are supposed to file with various governmental agencies.
  • Your agent’s address goes on all the government forms and thus in the online corporation search (eg, like this one for Delaware or this one for California). So if you don’t have an office yet, you can keep your home address from being easily searched.
  • Each time you move offices or change secretaries, you do not have to update your address with numerous governmental agencies and forms.

Recommended: BizFilings or Vcorp Services. Registered agents cost $100-$150/year. Do not go with a “cheap” one – those are scammy and also lock you into a long contract where the next year’s fee is a lot higher.

Get a bank

You will need one – look for somewhere with low fees for the things you will do often, and a convenient location to you. Also, does their website/app look usable? Do they offer an online bank feed that is compatible with your bookkeeping software? If you can find somewhere you’ll have a personal relationship with your banker, even better. Credit unions also offer business accounts! You will need to have bylaws, an EIN, and a few other formation things done before you can open an account. If you get confused by the list of requirements to open an account that you see listed on the bank’s website, visit the bank in person or call a banker to start the conversation. Don’t be disappointed if it takes a few tries to get all the documentation in order. And double-check that they spelled your business name right!

Get accounting software

This is how your business keeps track of all the things the IRS requires you to keep track of (in addition to being necessary for budgeting). You’ll probably work with your bookkeeper once a month to reconcile the books and with your accountant quarterly to prepare your quarterly tax filing.

Recommended: Xero (orders of magnitude better user experience than Quickbooks)

Get expense reporting & automatic reimbursement set up

An expense reporting app/service is worth paying for, because it will save you a TON of time and frustration with complying with IRS rules which are super complicated. Besides helping keep track of what everyone in your company is spending money on (and how much you are spending against your budgets), you need documentation of all your work expenses you buy with your personal funds in order for them to be reimbursed. We were researching what to use for Double Union and realized that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is an investor in Expensify, so we kept looking and found Abacus. Abacus is out of YCombinator, which has its own set of problems, but it seems easier to use and slightly more modern. Abacus lets you email or directly upload receipts or PDFs, and also has an app where you can take pictures of receipts. Then when another team member approves your request, money transfers into your bank account automatically via ACH.

Recommendation: Abacus

Get payroll set up

Hopefully you can pay yourselves – even if it is just covering your living expenses – from the time you start making revenue, or begin doing so as soon as you can. Xero does payroll in California and a handful of other states as well. If you end up getting significant investment from others right away, you should definitely be able to pay yourselves something. Payroll is another thing that requires a lot of IRS forms and also registering with the state type things (your lawyer or accountant can help you with this). You can’t just write yourself a check for your salary, it needs to go through a payroll system, like IntuitPayroll, ZenPayroll, or Xero’s payroll so that you pay all the required payroll taxes, social security, unemployment insurance, and all the rest. You can fix up a lot of mistakes you make early on in your business, but you don’t want to screw up your taxes, ever!

Recommendation: Xero

Get Insurance

You’ll probably want to get an umbrella insurance policy for your company, and definitely worker’s compensation insurance. If you rent an office or physical space yourself (i.e, are not renting desks at a coworking space) you’ll probably need to insure that too, as a term of your lease. If you run events, you should be sure that either the venue’s insurance covers your event, or you should purchase separate general liability insurance for your event (often around $200 per event, or around $1000/year in combination with your office’s policy). You might also consider getting Directors & Officers’ (D&O) insurance to protect your board of directors from liability for actions taken in good faith.

Have a board besides just the co-founders, and a group of advisors

One of the biggest mistakes that I made with MVC was not insisting on having a board of directors and an advisory board right away. If you are two co-founders, you need a group of people to go to when you have major disagreements about the direction of the company or its structure. (You still want this even if you have an odd number of co-founders.) A board has legal responsibilities to act in the best interest of the company and can provide guidance and a more objective perspective when things get too personal for the founders.

Picking the right board members is very important. They are easier to find than a good co-founder because it takes less time to be on a board (you should be aiming for less than 2 hours a week per person, usually much less), but you still want a lot of the same qualities in a board member as in a co-founder. Shared high-level values and philosophies are extremely important because you don’t want to be arguing over the basics of, e.g., whether employees should regularly take vacation or if you should take tons of investment early in the company’s life cycle.

Ideally, you should work with a board member in a lower-stakes relationship for several months before inviting them to your board. Pick people who have experience and skills you don’t have: perhaps an area of law, managing a large organization, or a particular technology. You should also look for people who have a large personal network and are willing to use it appropriately on your behalf. If a board member won’t support your work by spending their personal capital (social or monetary), you should ask them to leave, politely. Also, you should raise your eyebrows if your board members want to be paid.

Advisors don’t have a legal responsibility to the corporation, so your relationship (and match in values) can be a little looser. You still want to be picky, but you can have a lot more variety in philosophy and approach with your advisors.

Get an administrative assistant

Get your publication an administrative assistant from the get go. (This was something I wish we’d done for MVC and I will do for all my future companies.) You can find someone for $20-30/hr and hire them for 5 hours a week. Are you going to sell things and charge sales tax? Then you will have to file with the Board of Equalization. Going to run payroll? Then you’ll need to register with the state. Going to have a DBA (doing business as) name or names? More forms. Governmental agencies have absolutely no incentive to make anything easy for you, thus these are things that will always be tedious and painful. It worth paying someone else to do them, so you can focus your extremely limited time and energy on the core of your business.

Learn email management skills

Your work and personal emails should be separate. Use Google Apps to get email for your publication’s domain (eg: yourname@yourpub.co). You should spend time learning bigtime email management skills – read up on things like Inbox Zero, Getting Things Done (I recommend another book in that series, “Making it all work,” as well) and how to focus on what’s important and not urgent. And read enough blog posts or get a tutorial from a friend who is a Gmail power user so that you know how to do things like:

  • Use canned responses
  • Learn keyboard shortcuts (turn them on in Settings > Labs)
  • Filter filter filter all your mail so newsletters and updates from apps don’t make it into your main inbox, and instead go into folders that you can look at when you care to
  • Turn on “Undo Send” and “Send and Archive button” in Settings > Labs
  • Use stars or flags instead of re-marking things as unread
  • Set up 2-factor authentication via SMS or the Google Authenticator app

Get a shared password manager like LastPass

Get a password manager like LastPass Enterprise (or OnePassword or other competitors). Create a shared folder where you and your co-founder(s) can store and share all the passwords to group infrastructure things like DNS hosting, your Google Apps admin account, domain management website, and other online services. Every password should be shared with at least two people, and no one should be using a personal account for the business’s use. Use a long (30+ character) memorized passphrase for your password manager’s login and your Google Apps email account login. For the rest, use your password manager to generate long random passwords that are different for each site. Get the password manager’s app for your phone, too.

Recommended: LastPass

Do not work out of your home

It’s okay to work from home or coffee shops for a while, but the longer you’re in business the more important it is to have an actual office space where you can take phone calls and work side-by-side with collaborators. Give yourself boundaries between home and work, and a commute between to get in the right mindset. Perhaps renting desks at a local co-working space is the answer. Maybe you know someone who has a company that has a little spare space, and you can pay them a bit to have a table in the corner. If you have the funding, rent yourself a tiny office. (According to a number of people I’ve talked to with experience, commercial leases are always 2+ years but — especially in San Francisco — they are easy enough to sub-let or otherwise get out of with a few months notice and willingness to eat the deposit. So don’t a long lease scare you away if you find a great deal on a place you love.)

Consider doing some sort of print editions

There is a lot of interest in print publications right now. Would one make financial sense for your business? That’s a matter of how many you think you could sell vs. the cost to print. I love 3191milesapart.com and their print edition was part of what inspired me to start MVC with a business model that included a print quarterly. I saw that their quarterly said “edition of 1,000” in it. Hmm, a niche publication might have as many readers as them, I thought. So start by thinking about how many people you and your co-founder know that are interested in your publication. You can talk to other people who publish print works, if you know any. Say you come up with 400. Then there are people you don’t know, and you’ll want to have ones to give away. Could you double it and make your first print run 800? Well, looking at most print brochures, it’s more round numbers, so you could maybe print 1,000? Or bump down to 750 and create a “sold out” demand – you can always reprint if you are more popular than you need. In any case, pick a few numbers that you think you might aim for printing and of those, how many you think you can sell.

Now do the math – you are figuring out if print might be a good idea. Use a spreadsheet and run some numbers – for each print run (eg 750, 1000, 2000, 3000) what is the cost to print. Then, at various prices, what is the # of copies you’d need to sell to break even and make your print costs back. Use that to think through the trade-offs, and pick your price and initial print run.

Recommended: I really like working with Amy of 1984 Printing

Tips on managing the shipping extravaganza, if you sell physical things

Physical things are awesome: people love them and are willing to pay for them. When the first MVC quarterlies came out, there was a twitter meme of people posing their pets pretending to read or hold the books. And anyone who’s made ‘zines knows the power of having something you can hold in your hand, leave on a table, or pass on to someone when you’re done reading.

Physical things are good for publications because you can make an actual exchange of value with your readers that somehow feels ‘right’ all round. There’s a ton to know about shipping and I do not know most of it, but here are some of the things I’ve figured out from doing bulk-mailing of various products over the years. (I also recommend the giant guide to estimating shipping on Nick D’s blog.)

Uline.

Book mailers, self seal envelopes, tyvek. It’s a pretty astounding catalogue of everything you might need – just looking at it gives me the thrills. So much you could make and ship to people! Be sure to use the search box and poke around to figure out what’s there before you need it. Upon ordering, you will start getting their catalogues too, which is a mailbox filling hazard of the job… keep one and then unsubscribe. Also, when you are choosing book mailers and envelopes, and are faced with the choice to pay extra for the self sealing sticky kind… remember that they are probably worth it due to the time they save you.

Recommendation: Uline

Inked stamps

People love inked stamps. Stamps are fun to stamp. Get pre-inked ones. You can get them many places – Vistaprint, RubberStamps.net, etc. Almost every stamp-ordering experience is harrowing and sketchy but thankfully you don’t have to order them often.

Recommendation: Vistaprint or RubberStamps.net

Professional label printer

I recommend the Brother QL-700 series, which will save you tons of time, though the dated software that is literally named “P-Touch” takes a bit of time to learn up front. Export a CSV of your sales into Google Sheets, use formulas to combine fields to create something that’s cleaned up and ready to go into the printer’s CSV “database” and push print. It will print out hundreds of labels in a very short time in a durable, rain-proof way. It also cut the labels to size for you. Give yourself plenty of time to fight with formatting the addresses and keep a PDF copy of every set of labels you print so you can debug problems when people tell you their thing never arrived.

Recommendation: Brother QL-700

Recommendation: Get the paper for the brother printer from Office Smart Labels and an inner reusable cartridge

Choose a way to unify your site’s images

For MVC the emphasis was on using personal image, often from the authors, where possible. I chose a “golden ratio” landscape crop and decided to do color-processing using photoshop actions to give an overarching unity to the images on the site. You can buy actions on sites like The Color Shop (my favorite) or search for “Actions” on sites like CreativeMarket. For Open Review Quarterly and most zines we have artists create work for the theme, or inspired by a particular piece. Some authors make illustrations for their own piece, telling the story visually as well. Creating a standard size and processing lets you have a variety of content with a unified feeling across your whole publication.

Recommendation: Photoshop is $20/mo if you subscribe through Creative Cloud

Website building

Having your writing look good on mobile is the biggest thing to think about; then worry about page load speed. I tend to lean towards writing code to do exactly what I want, but if you don’t know how to code or don’t have a specific artistic vision, look at themes until you find one you like, purchase the theme, and then adapt it to fit your needs. For example, CreativeMarket is a site that has a lot of themes. (There are many other similar sites out there – look around!) If you end up wanting to use WordPress, for example, you can find themes for it. Just poking around there, I like this one and this one a lot. Imagine how beautiful your publication will be!

Pick some useful metrics and add tracking codes to your website

You’ll probably want to add a lot of analytics, so you can see how your publication is doing and what’s working by tracking things like number of visitors, time on the site, how many other articles a visitor reads after the first one, and so on. There are a lot of blog posts discussing blog metrics with varying degrees of helpfulness, like this, this, and this. So start by doing some research to see what metrics and products are relevant today, and from there figure out which ones are relevant to your company and values. Minimally, you’ll want Google Analytics and maybe CrazyEgg as a start.

Create a list of topics and article ideas

In your dream publication, what are you covering? Have a few hour+ long sessions of brainstorming with a notebook and your co-founder(s). What are the ideas, themes, topics that are interesting but not covered well? What do you want to see in the world? Write down article titles, issue themes, and other things that interest you. Aim to end up with several hundred one-line ideas written down.

Create a “Potential Authors” spreadsheet

Make a “Potential Authors” spreadsheet with the header columns that are something like: Name, What do they write about, Twitter handle (if they have one), link to blog or writing, How do you know them (or can you get an intro), what would you love to have them write about for you, status on reaching out to them. Include authors you don’t know yet but would aspirationally like to write for you. Search for articles related to things on your list of topics and article ideas to find people who research or have written about similar things. Continue adding people to this spreadsheet all the time!

Do active outreach for authors

Once you have your potential authors spreadsheet, get in touch with some of them with a concrete proposal – make your email something that can be replied to with a “yes” or “no”. (If it’s not clear enough to have a yes or no response, keep rewriting before you send.) If you can get an intro over email from someone you know, that’s awesome. But DM-ing them to get their email address, or a respectful cold email to a publicly posted address often works. Your “pitch” email should describe what your publication is like and your goals, how much you can pay for a piece, what you like about their current work or have seen of it, and what topics you’d be interested in seeing them write about.

Email your authors early and often!

You are going to be emailing your authors a lot. (That’s ok, you get to get to know lots of awesome people that way!) Email your authors a day before the first draft deadline. Email them the day of in the morning, reminding them that today’s the day. Email them the evening of if they haven’t turned it in. (If they did turn it in, you’ll have already emailed them saying thanks!).

As the “final” deadline nears, use emails to provide feedback on what’s working in the piece in way that is higher level than all the individual edits/comments/suggestions in the google doc. Don’t forget that your authors need you to provide positive ways to bring the piece to its best and lots of encouragement.

Also, depending on the author, they might want to do a video call, phone call, or sms chat to discuss their piece or their idea.

Fake deadlines (ok, really long timelines) for feature length pieces

Especially if you are going to be working with long pieces that go in themed issues, have “fake” deadlines for the first draft. Don’t expect all authors to get their piece in by the first draft deadline. If you do, you will be disappointed every deadline day. If you reach your first deadline and 70% of the authors have sent you something, that is a major success! Get started editing the ones that come in and continue emailing the authors that still owe you drafts.

Themed issues are a good way to get authors to finish writing

“Can’t it go in the next issue?” “No, the next issue is on X and your piece is on Y and is so perfect for the Y issue. Let’s work together to make it happen for Y issue like we planned. The world needs to hear what you’ve got to say! [Insert sentences figuring out what to do together to make it work – a slight extension on the deadline, shortening the scope of the piece, a hearty round of edits and comments on an “unfinished, pre-first-draft-draft”…]”

Thoughts on bringing new writing into the world

Your publication has the opportunity to bring new writing into the world – writing that wouldn’t exist otherwise. You will be able to publish stories from people who don’t normally write for publications, and from people who publish more widely, but wouldn’t have felt safe or able to write this to be published elsewhere. You will publish writing from people who are now able to spend the time writing, since you are paying them. The writer-editor relationship a really special connection to be part of, and editing with care, appreciation, and thankfulness will go a long way towards bringing a piece to its best. You’ll improve at editing over time, but here are some brief thoughts on order of operations:

  • Go through once without marking anything (just correct typos like spelling or minor grammar as you go).
  • Think about the overall structure of the piece. Some drafts come in nearly good-to-go, but others might benefit from a little re-ordering, such as pulling out an interesting anecdote from the middle and placing it as the intro.
  • Leave comments on individual words or sentences (highlight and command-option-M). Note what parts really spoke to you. Ask questions about things that you want to know more about. Suggest parts to cut out for clarity or brevity. Ask for assertions to be expanded on, anecdotes to be added.
  • Approach editing with curiosity, love, and a belief in the author’s innate abilities.

Good luck! And if you start thinking of starting a feminist publication (or feminist startup in general) and want to chat, feel free to send me an email: hello@ameliagreenhall.com.

Thank you to Alicia Liu for inviting Ameila to give a talk about collaborative publishing at Digital Humanities in July 2014. The notes and slides for that talk formed the base of this post. Also thank you to all of Amelia’s publishing partners, past and present, especially Adam Greenhall and Michael Ahillen, and Valerie’s co-founder, Mary Gardiner. Thank you to Leigh Honeywell and Kate Losse for reading and editing this draft.


Responses to What it was like to co-found Model View Culture with Shanley Kane: Betsy Haibel wrote “An Apology, and Eight other Things”. Annalee Flower Horne wrote “The Trouble with Heroes”. Tim Chevalier wrote “Holding our Heroes Accountable”. Amelia Abreu wrote “Now start yr own band: on relationships, trauma, and tech feminism”.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Linkspam

  • Feminist Bloggers Cannot Be Your Therapists | Brute Reason (January 11): “Why are people blaming feminism–the feminism of the 1970s or 80s, no less–for failing to cure what appeared to be a serious psychological issue? Why are people claiming that the solution now is simply for feminist writers and activists to be more compassionate and considerate towards male nerds like Aaronson, as though any compassion or consideration could have magically fixed such a deeply layered set of deeply irrational beliefs?”
  • Bringing back the Riot Grrrl | Marlena’s Blog (January 20): “What I found is that no matter how much I read and worked at not being an asshole or finding the “right way” to say things or get my opinions across, I could never be silent enough.”
  • Smash Bros. Community Boots Harassing Host of Their Largest Tournament | The Mary Sue (January 20): “Over the past day or so, the Smash Bros. community has come together in a big way to denounce years of harassment by the host of the largest Smash Bros. tournament around: Apex. With Apex 2015 rapidly approaching the last weekend of January, Jonathan “Alex Strife” Lugo has been forced to step down from his position at the tournament in a huge win for safety in the fighting game community.”
  • Infamous, Thoughtless, Careless, and Reckless | Mark Bernstein  (January 15): A series of posts discussing the Wikipedia Arbitration Committee’s decision to prohibit feminists from contributing to Wikipedia on issues related to gaming, gender, or sexuality. “The infamous draft decision of Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee (ArbCom) on Gamergate is worse than a crime. It’s a blunder that threatens to disgrace the internet. “
  • Gaming while black: Casual racism to cautious optimism | Joystiq (January 16): “Freelance gaming and media writer Sidney Fussell summarized the pushback as follows: “I’ve been writing about blackness and games for about two years now and a huge majority of the negative feedback I get boils down to this: Race doesn’t belong in video games. White commenters tell me racism in games isn’t a problem. Only attention-starved reverse racists, dragging it up for clicks from white-guilt-addled gamers, still want to talk about racism. This is the burden of being a black gamer: I love games, but if I want to talk about them critically, my motives are questioned, my social ties are strained and suddenly I’m a member of the ‘PC Police’ who wants to go around ruining everyone’s fun.”
  • We’re going to keep talking about women in tech | The Daily Dot (January 14): “Here are 25 straightforward things you can do to create change – many of which won’t take more than two minutes of your time.”
  • Abusing Contributors is not okay | Curious Efficiency (January 22): “As the coordinator of the Python Software Foundation’s contribution to the linux.conf.au 2015 financial assistance program, and as someone with a deep personal interest in the overall success of the open source community, I feel it is important for me to state explicitly that I consider Linus’s level of ignorance around appropriate standards of community conduct to be unacceptable in an open source community leader in 2015.”
  • Support diversity in Linux by attending an Ally Skills Workshop at SCALE 13X | The Ada Initiative (January 21): “The Ally Skills Workshop teaches men how to support women in their workplaces and communities, by effectively speaking up when they see sexism, creating discussions that allow more voices to be heard, and learning how to prevent sexism and unwelcoming behavior in the first place. The changes that reduce sexism also make communities more welcoming, productive, and creative.”
  • The Elephant in the Keynote | Project Gus (January 19): “And while younger white male software developers are having their opinions panned by the respected older generation on stage, what does this mean for actual marginalised groups? If FOSS is ever going to achieve broad adoption, it has to appeal to more than a privileged few.”
  • OPW Successes and Succession Planning | The Geekess (January 15): “It’s been a busy winter for the FOSS Outreach Program for Women (OPW).  On October 13, 2014, seven (yes, seven!) of the former Linux kernel OPW interns presented their projects at LinuxCon Europe.”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Quick hit: Wikipedia begins purging feminist editors

It’s never been clearer that neutral point of view is a joke.

The Arbitration Committee (ArbCom) is the highest user-run body on Wikipedia, or “Wikipedia’s supreme court”. Contrary to its public image as a freewheeling, anarchic site where anyone can edit, Wikipedia actually is a bureaucracy to rival the IRS.

ArbCom’s latest decision: banning five editors who in their personal lives are feminists from editing feminism-related articles. Specifically, all five editors had been attempting to rewrite Wikipedia articles with a pro-Gamergate slate to have a more neutral point of view. No editors who’d expressed a pro-Gamergate point of view in their personal lives were banned; five feminists were.

I’ve previously written on my blog about how Wikipedia administrators decided I couldn’t be neutral because I identified at the time as genderqueer. But if this latest twist isn’t Wikipedia throwing down the gauntlet to declare that “neutral point of view” really means “point of view that soothes white, heterosexual, cis, abled men’s egos”, I don’t know what is.

The Guardian has the full story.

On Getting Paid to Speak

In response to a thread on a private mailing list, a prominent woman in tech wrote this fantastic rundown of the details of getting paid to speak, including which speaker bureaus represent which kinds of speakers. We are re-posting an anonymized version of it with her permission in the hopes that with better information, more women will get paid fairly for their public speaking. Paying women fair wages for their work is a feminist act. This advice applies primarily to United States-based speakers; if you have information about international speaker bureaus, please share it in the comments!

Question: I’m interested in speaking with [members of the private mailing list] who either speak via a speaker bureau/agency, or otherwise get paid for their speaking gigs. I have done an absolute ton of speaking in the past few years (including several keynotes) and I know I’m at the level where I could be asking for money for my speaking, and I also need to reduce the amount I sign up for in order to focus on my own projects. So I’m on the market for an agency and would love to hear numbers from other folks who charge for giving talks. I know several women who ask for $1000-$2000 plus travel costs for engagement, but would love to know if that is typical or low as I definitely do know dudes who get much more.

Thanks!

PS this was a very scary email to write! Asking for others to value your work as work is really difficult!

Answer: I have a lot of experience with this & have done a lot of research. The main U.S. bureaus are:

  • The Leigh Bureau, which represents Nate Silver, Joi Ito, danah boyd, Tim Wu, Don Tapscott, Malcolm Gladwell, etc. Leigh tends to represent so-called public intellectuals, and to do a lot of work crafting the brand and visibility of their speakers in well-thought-out laborious campaigns. It tends to represent people for whom speaking is their FT job (or at least, it’s what pays their bills). Leigh does things like organize paid author tours when a new book comes out. Being repped by Leigh is a major time commitment.
  • The Washington Speakers Bureau: Jonathan Zittrain, Madeleine Albright, Tony Blair, Katie Couric, Lou Dobbs, Ezra Klein. These folks specialize in DC/public policy.
  • The Harry Walker Agency: Jimmy Wales, Bill Clinton, Larry Summers, Steve Forbes, Bono, Steven Levitt, Cass Sunstein. These folks tend to rep celebrities and DC types: busy people for whom speaking is a sideline.
  • The Lavin Agency: Jared Diamond, Anderson Cooper, Jonathan Haidt, Lewis Lapham, Steve Wozniak. Lavin does (sort of) generalist public intellectual think-y type people, but is way less commitment than e.g. Leigh. Lavin reps people whose main work is something other than speaking.

(There are probably lots of others including ones that are more specialized, but these are the ones I know.)

I went with Lavin and they’ve been fine. The primary benefits to me are 1) They bring me well-paying talks I wouldn’t otherwise get; 2) they take care of all the flakes so I don’t have to, and they vet to figure out who is a flake; 2) they negotiate the fee; and 3) they handle all the boring logistical details of e.g. scheduling, contractual stuff, reimbursements, etc. I mostly do two types of talks:

  1. The event organizers approach me, and I send them to Lavin. About 80% of these invitations are just [stuff] I would never do, because it pays nothing and/or the event sounds dubious, the expected audience is tiny, I have no idea why they invited me, or whatever. But, about 20% are people/events that I like or am interested in, like advocacy groups, museums, [technical standards bodies], [technical conferences]; TED-x. If I really like the organizers and they are poor, sometimes I will waive my fee and just have them pay expenses. (Warning: if there is no fee, the bureau bows out and I have to handle everything myself. Further warning: twice I have waived my fee and found out later that other speakers didn’t. Bah.) If I get paid for these events, it’s usually about 5K.
  2. The event organizers approach Lavin directly, requesting me. These tend to be professional conferences, where they’re staging something every year and need to come up with a new keynote annually. These are all organized by a corporation or an industry association with money — e.g., Penguin Books, Bain, McKinsey, the American Society of Public Relations Professionals, the Institute of E-Learning Specialists, etc. I do them solely for the money, and I accept them unless I have a scheduling conflict or I really cannot imagine myself connecting with the theme or the audience. These talks are way less fun than the #1 kind above, but they pay more: my fee is usually 25K but occasionally 50K.

For all my talks I get the base fee plus hotel and airfare, plus usually an expenses buyout of about $200 a day. A few orgs can’t do a buyout because of internal policies: that’s worse for me because it means I need to save receipts etc., which is a hassle. Lavin keeps half my fee, which I think is pretty typical. In terms of fees generally, I can tell you from working with bureaus from the other side that 5K is a pretty typical ballpark fee that would usually get a speaker with some public profile (like a David Pogue-level of celebrity) who would be expected to be somewhat entertaining. The drivers of speaker fees are, I think 1) fame, 2) entertainment value and 3) expertise/substance, with the last being the least important. The less famous you are, the more entertaining you’re expected to be. Usually for the high-money talks, there is at least one prep call, during which they tell me what they want: usually it’s a combination of “inspiration” plus a couple of inside-baseball type anecdotes that people can tell their friends about afterwards. The high-money talks are definitely less fun than the low-money ones: the audiences are less engaged, it’s more work for me to provide what they need, everybody cares less, etc.

When I spoke with [a guy at one agency] he told me some interesting stuff about tech conferences, most of which I sadly have forgotten :/ But IIRC I think he said tech conferences tend to pay poorly if at all, because the assumption is that the speaker is benefiting in other ways than cash — they’re consultants who want to be hired by tech companies, they’re pitching a product, trying to hire engineers, building their personal brand, or whatever. Leigh says they’re not lucrative and so they don’t place their people at them much. The real money is in the super-boring stuff, and in PR/social media conferences.

Hope this is useful!

We certainly found it useful. Here are some additional resources which came up in the mailing list thread:

Linkspams on a plane (20 January 2015)

  • Gamergate Target Zoe Quinn Launches Anti-Harassment Support Network | Wired: “Co-founded by Quinn and fellow game developer Alex Lifschitz, the Crash Override network provides advice, resources, and support from survivors with personal experience to those facing harassment. The network, which officially launched Friday, also offers access to “experts in information security, whitehat hacking, PR, law enforcement, legal, threat monitoring and counseling.””
  • Beautiful Illustrations Empowering All Women Part 2 | GeekXGirls: “Artist Carol Rossetti created these beautiful reminders for all women, and now we’ve even got some geek specific ones relating to cosplay harassment and the “fake gamer girl” witchhunt.”
  • Belief that some fields require ‘brilliance’ may keep women out | Science/AAAS | News: “The authors suggest that faculty members and graduate student instructors convey their attitudes to undergraduates, who internalize them before making career decisions. Given the prevailing societal view that fewer women than men have special intellectual abilities, they speculate, female students may feel discouraged from pursuing advanced degrees in fields that consider brilliance crucial. Male students, on the other hand, will not experience this same feedback, leading to a gender disparity in the discipline.”
  • Representation of women and the genius myth | mathbabe: “If you think about it, it’s actually a pretty reasonable roadmap for how to attract a more diverse group of people to mathematics or other subjects. You just need to create an environment of learning that emphasizes practice over genius. Actively dispel the genius myth.”
  • On Tone Policing Linus Torvalds, or…| Many machines on Ix. : “What Linus undoubtedly sees as some sort of confident swagger in the way he writes, he comes across as acting like a child.  ”I care about the technology,” he told Ars Technica. But when he talks about other people’s work, the technical details are buried under a thick layer of lazy rhetorical flourishes that just Linus trying to show off… It’s the bluster of a bully, someone who can’t or won’t discuss a disagreement on equal terms, because he think he doesn’t have to.”
  • My boyfriend in Dragon Age: Inquisition broke my heart when he told me he was gay | Technology | The Guardian: “Consent is sexy. Consent is cool. Consent is a very important thing, for women and men, and now it’s in big blockbuster video games. Dragon Age: Inquisition is easily the most personal, well-designed relationship system I’ve ever seen – and if we learn anything at all from the media we consume, then our awkward, virtual sexual encounters in games like this could maybe shape us all into better, more respectful people.”
  • How crowdfunding helps haters profit from harassment | Boing Boing: [CW: misogynist speech highlighted in header image, harassment] “Crowdfunding services have the duty not only to be aware of who they are doing business with, but also to care when their rules are flaunted. If they don’t, ruining a woman’s life will remain gainful self-employment for these professional victimizers.”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Internet freedom and the EFF’s anti-harassment statement

Today we’re featuring two separate guest posts about online harassment: Dr. Alice Marwick’s post about her research proposal for studying why men harass women online — with a link to a site where you can vote for this proposal to be funded! — and this one, taking a closer look at the EFF‘s recent anti-harassment statement.

This is a guest post from Jem Yoshioka, a writer and illustrator from New Zealand. She grew up on the internet, connecting with people all around the world who like to draw and write. She uses the internet constantly, like many other people on the planet. However, a part of loving something means knowing when it’s a bit broken, and the internet is definitely that. Jem’s illustration work is available online and you can follow her on Twitter.

I’d love to say that the statement EFF made on the 8th of January was anything but a disappointment, but it is. The fervent devotion to free speech over everything else ends up alienating me (and many others, I’m sure). Yes, I believe in the vital importance of freedom of the press and the freedom from being censored, prosecuted or incarcerated by governments based on the expression of thoughts. But I also believe that harmful and dangerous abusive behaviour by individuals and hate groups needs to be identified and actively stamped out. It needs to be the responsibility of us all, not just the people who find themselves targeted. This is the responsibility that we take on as members of a community. We’re watching people’s lives burn to the ground and the EFF brings a watering can filled with weak platitudes.

The Internet isn’t built for everyone

Internet freedom. It sounds pretty good on paper. An open and uncapturable internet with truly utopian beliefs and ideals about equality. In our rosiest narratives, the internet is one of the most incredible and liberating human inventions in recent history, and it’s certainly changing how we all live our lives. However, this utopian internet — a place where we can all live, work, socialise and act harmoniously together — has never and most likely will never exist. This is because the internet is largely built with the same patriarchal, cis, white male structures that “real world” societies are built with. It’s built from the same essential building blocks, and those blocks’ stresses, cracks and faults continue to harm the same people.

The internet is designed by and for straight, white, cis dudes. If you look at any of the startups currently vying for your valuable time and attention, you will see numbers of far, far more men than women and almost every single one of them will be white. The higher up you go, the whiter and more male it gets. If you follow the money that’s funding these ventures, you’ll notice a lot of them bear a striking resemblance to each other and also to a tall glass of milk.

White, hetero, cis male privilege is unaware of itself, but this is in part because it’s unaware of everyone else. And if these people are building our infrastructure, then there’s an awful lot of essential tools they’re missing because of their ignorance.

The places these people build are becoming increasingly more essential to our businesses, our work and our social lives, whether we like it or not. The dominance of platforms like Twitter and Facebook is strongly influencing we all use the internet and who can safely use the internet. When push comes to shove, the system protects the people who designed it for their own use; but everyone else is constantly placed at risk both in their online activities and in their physical space.

The thorny topic of harassment

Harassment was the hot-button word of 2014. It seemed like things reached some magical media tipping point and all of a sudden, women receiving rape and death threats online counted as proper “real world” news. But as many of us who are the targets (or potential targets) of this kind of harassment know, this behaviour isn’t something that’s just sprung up magically in the last year. It’s the festering muck that’s been lingering at the bottom of potentially every page, probably since the comment section was invented.

Being a woman on the internet is like playing with a ticking time bomb where you can’t see the timer. It could go off any second, or never, or in five years. It could go off because of something you said or someone else, or something completely unrelated to you. It could be because you like a hobby mostly boys like, or you’ve written that you’re fed up with inequality and sexism, or you’d just like a woman’s face to be on a bank note. It’s all stuff that it’s well within our rights as humans to discuss and have opinions about. But if you do so as a woman, you risk being hit with a harassment bomb.

When a harassment bomb detonates, it ruins lives. Private information is shared, companies boycotted, parents’ phone numbers called. Death threats are sent to conventions where victims plan to speak. Victims are blamed and accused of being “professional victims” all the while, the harassers push for their own financial and social profit.

It’s a constant struggle to write, share, and operate normally in the face of constant harassment. Not all of us are strong enough to stand against a tsunami of verbal and visual effluence day after day, and still manage time to build, construct, run, and manage a business. It’s exhausting even to witness from a safe distance, let alone live through. (Those that do manage, let me just say that I love you and everything you bring us, and your voice means the entire world to me. But I do wish you didn’t have to spend so much of your brilliance keeping your safety watertight.)

Since the targets of online harassment are most often marginalised people, this means we are losing voices. Targets are more likely to be women, of colour, trans, disabled, poor, or informally educated. Usually a mix of things because humans don’t tend to sit nicely in categorised boxes. Not everyone who faces this harassment can cut it, and they shouldn’t have to in order to do a simple thing like be active on the internet. We have no idea how many people have quit or won’t even start down this path because of harassment.

What’s wrong with the EFF’s picture

The EFF as an organisation stands up for a lot of the same things that I want to stand up for. Removal of restrictive DRM, power to people instead of governments, critical looks at spying laws and tackling issues of security. But when it comes to matters that involve harassment or the internet’s own structural biases, they are comparatively quiet. Since harassment silences and self-censors so many of our most marginalised voices, I would assume that an organisation like the EFF would jump onto the issue with all guns blazing. They have commented in the past in small doses, but they often take a relatively conservative approach in order to protect the “real” issue of actual proper free speech.

I’d love to say that the statement EFF made on the 8th of January was anything but a disappointment, but it is. The fervent devotion to free speech over everything else ends up alienating me (and many others, I’m sure). Yes, I believe in the vital importance of freedom of the press and the freedom from being censored, prosecuted or incarcerated by governments based on the expression of thoughts. But I also believe that harmful and dangerous abusive behaviour by individuals and hate groups needs to be identified and actively stamped out. It needs to be the responsibility of us all, not just the people who find themselves targeted. This is the responsibility that we take on as members of a community. We’re watching people’s lives burn to the ground and the EFF brings a watering can filled with weak platitudes.

What we are seeing with online abuse can’t be mistaken for a disagreement of opinion. It’s not a couple of people having a swear-off or even just one person losing their cool at another. It’s constant, structured campaigns of active and malicious behaviour, much of it already illegal under existing law. I’m confused as to why it’d even be controversial to take a strong stand against it.

The EFF blames victims. The focus of their suggestions is on potential victims and users needing to learn self-protection, rather than addressing the very clear underlying systemic and cultural elements that allow harassment to flourish. They discount that many victims do already protect themselves — as much as online systems can possibly allow. Even with significant amounts of filtering, muting and blocking, their time and energy is being diverted from enjoying their time online to a constant battle for space and safety.

The EFF say that if only Twitter unlocked its API, third party creators could develop better tools to protect users. And yes, that’s a possibility. But for this possibility to be viable, someone needs to devote an awful lot of their time, skill and energy just to ensure a platform becomes marginally safer, which Twitter should be doing for its users in the first place.

Companies that profit from our data should be doing more to keep us as users safe. We should be able to have systems in place to protect us, built by full-time staff who are paid a living wage. We shouldn’t have to donate our own time to build such systems for ourselves, on top of whatever other work we need to do to keep ourselves and our families safe, fed, and sheltered. It’s your system that’s broken; you need to fix it. Pay someone to fix it. Put it in your business roadmaps. Hire people who know about this stuff. Stop building on top of the same structures that punish marginalised people.

It seems to be the EFF’s position that harassment needs to be condoned to some extent if we want free speech. If we get too tough on harassment, it’ll mostly end up getting used to punish free speech by governments instead of harassment at all. This idea that censorship trickles down is ridiculous, because marginalised people are already facing self-censorship of their work on a daily basis out of fear of harassment. It’s already happening, and we’re not being helped or protected except by each other.

The internet is white. The internet is male. Most of the internet speaks English. If you aren’t or don’t do these things, you are actively and continuously put under pressure to ensure conformity. If you continuously fail to conform, you are sent harassing messages, death and rape threats, and have your whole life twisted upside down for you and then blamed for it.

I love the internet. It’s my home. It’s where I’ve met most of my friends and how I keep connected with my family. It helps me to connect with new clients and keeps me informed of current events. It’s been a teacher, a friend, and my external memory component (effectively making me a cyborg). It improves my life in little and incalculable ways every day. However, the dark, hostile side can’t be ignored or tolerated. In order for the internet to be the best internet it can be, it needs to be better for everyone. We need to all be safe online, not just those of us who know how to protect ourselves or are lucky enough to never be targets. We need it to be a priority of the bigger fish, of our governments and of our advocacy organisations. We deserve to be safe.

Let’s Talk to the Men This Time: Combating Online Harassment

Today we’re featuring two separate guest posts, both about online harassment. Stay tuned for the second one!

This is a guest post from Alice Marwick, PhD. Dr. Marwick is the Director of the McGannon Center for Communication Research and is an Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University.

Over the last two years, gendered online harassment has finally been recognized as a significant issue. High-profile cases of women doxed, attacked, or shamed in public, often those speaking out about sexism, highlight the ways in which the technical affordances of the internet enable systemic persecution. The same technologies which allow for positive collaboration and creativity can—and are—used to threaten, provoke, and hector journalists, bloggers, software developers, activists, or even just random people online with disturbing regularity.

This is a difficult problem to solve. The desire to harass women is not a virus spread by the internet that strikes individuals at random. Instead, it’s fueled by very real, and very complicated, underpinnings of structural misogyny (and, often, racism, homophobia, and classism as well) that affect who gets harassed. During the panic over cyberbullying a few years ago, LGBT activists implored the press to remember that implementing anti-bullying campaigns without addressing larger issues of trans- and homophobia ignored the underlying issues. I’m currently working to do something similar with gendered online harassment.

Many well-meaning people are proposing a host of legal and technical solutions, from eliminating online anonymity, to reinforcing anti-harassment statutes currently on the books, to increasing moderation in online communities. Some of these solutions may work, and some may not. But I share the EFF’s concerns; we shouldn’t use gendered online harassment, as awful as it is, to chip away at protections for online speech. Online anonymity is frequently used by activists, domestic violence survivors, and sexual minorities as a protective tactic. And companies like Facebook and Reddit, who are not legally required to actively patrol harassment on their platforms, have shown themselves unwilling to invest in greater moderation or content regulation.

Even given all these suggestions, we still have very little information both about why people choose to harass others—and, more broadly—why men adopt, adhere to, and spread sexist and misogynist views. You’d think the latter would have been extensively researched in the 1970s, but it seems to have been barely studied at all. I (and two PhD-level research assistants) have been unable to find any major studies identifying motivations for men adopting sexist views, let alone motivations for harassing women, whether that be sexual harassment, street harassment, or online harassment. (I would be extremely happy if you could comment with any studies you may know of and I can be proven wrong). But this is the missing piece. Without understanding why people are harassing others online, we cannot accurately solve this problem.

So I’m posting this to ask for a favor. A project I’m involved with is currently up for a People’s Choice Award in the fifth Digital Media and Learning grant competition (called the Trust Challenge). Together with another professor at Fordham, Gregory Donovan—who’s worked extensively with diverse groups of young people in NYC on other participatory research projects—we’re hoping to study harassers with the collaboration of young women who’ve been harassed. We think it’s extremely important to involve victims of online harassment to avoid the paternalism that often comes into play when creating solutions to help young women. The information and expertise provided by a focus group of young, diverse New York City area women will help us understand where this harassment takes place, what it looks like, and how to combat it. It will also inform the second half of the project. We hope to identify, contact, and interview people online who have harassed others. From these people, we want to understand motivations. Is it for the lulz? Do they identify as trolls? Is it because they subscribe to a Men’s Rights ideology? Is it a way to let out aggression? With the information we learn from both groups, we hope to create best practices for tech companies and legislators to design any strategies to combat harassment. We hope to include not solely harassment for being feminist, but harassment for merely existing as a woman online—especially a woman of color, a queer woman, or someone with an intersectional perspective.

Please vote for our project on the DML website. It takes a second—just click the heart—and it gets us one step closer to getting this project fully funded. We’re asking for money to support summer funding for both of us, a semester off for Gregory so he can devote himself to the project, incentives for our participants, and a grad student to help out with the project. We hope that you’ll agree that this project is worth funding.

(We also encourage you to check out FemTechNet’s project which focuses on creating educational content to combat harassment of feminists specifically).

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr.

16 April 1963
My Dear Fellow Clergymen:
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against “outsiders coming in.” I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham’s economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants–for example, to remove the stores’ humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?” We decided to schedule our direct action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham’s mayoral election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene “Bull” Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run off, we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct action program could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: “Why didn’t you give the new city administration time to act?” The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state’s segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self respect and a sense of “somebodiness” that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle-class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro’s frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible “devil.”

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the “do nothingism” of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle. If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as “rabble rousers” and “outside agitators” those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies–a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: “Get rid of your discontent.” Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some -such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle–have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as “dirty nigger-lovers.” Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful “action” antidotes to combat the disease of segregation. Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a nonsegregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation -and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands. Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping “order” and “preventing violence.” I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.

It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handling the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather “nonviolently” in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

I wish you had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood, Martin Luther King, Jr.
Published in:
King, Martin Luther Jr.

Every Little Thing She Does Is Linkspam (18 January 2015)

  • What Happened to All of the Women in Computer Science? | Pacific Standard (January 12): “having a personal computer as a kid was a strong predictor of choosing the major, and that parents were much more likely to buy a PC for their sons than they were for their daughters.”
  • On Sexism and Awards | Justine Larbalestier (January 13): “If you’re a man and you write a realist YA novel you’re more likely to win an award for it than a woman is.” YA fiction is more diverse in stories and authors than awards reveal.
  • An Old Fogey’s Analysis of a Teenager’s View on Social Media | The Message | Medium (January 12): “teens’ use of social media is significantly shaped by race and class, geography and cultural background.” “The fact that professionals prefer anecdotes from people like us over concerted efforts to understand a demographic as a whole is shameful. More importantly, it’s downright dangerous. It shapes what the tech industry builds and invests in, what gets promoted by journalists, and what gets legitimized by institutions of power. This is precisely why and how the tech industry is complicit in the increasing structural inequality that is plaguing our society.”
  • How to Edit Wikipedia: Lessons from a Female Contributor | Anita Borg Institute (January 13): “Beware editors who only want to talk about content; who feel that civility is not a problem on Wikipedia; who dismiss other editors or tell others to ignore problems; and who constantly derail discussions.”
  • And now, a guest performance by the Bogglemen | Rosemary For Remembrance (January 15): In reaction to the Anita Borg link above: “I am bitter and tired, I admit this, but I genuinely don’t see why women should invest their scarce time and resources in contributing to a public resource, no matter how valuable, that tolerates the behavior described.”
  • The ‘strong female character’ is dead. All hail the complicated woman. | The Washington Post (January 13): “What was best in film and television last year was the stripping away of the requirement that female characters have to be “strong” to be interesting or admirable.”
  • Agent Carter’s ‘Feminism’ Is More About Making Money Than Gender Equality | In These Times (January 13): “Given Marvel’s influence, yes, it’s good that Agent Carter has feminist ambitions, a strong female lead, even some understanding of women’s history. And that should be the standard for all Marvel movies, because, like it or not, they’re one of the most powerful cultural forces in the world. This is what the “representation” part of feminist analysis is good at demanding: If these entertainments are going to be ubiquitous, they had better not be harmful.
    But let us not confuse a corporation adjusting its marketing strategy with “feminism.” Let us not assume Marvel wishes to do anything but acquire a new revenue stream, and let us not, dear Lord, commit the sin of gratitude for the bare minimum.”
  • “It’s [Not] Okay”: How Women Die In Comic Book Movies | The Mary Sue (January 12): “Comic books and their adaptations, which we are thankfully getting a whole lot more of, can be a powerful tool in shaping our culture’s perception of women, and it’s time that script writers quit relying on the deaths of women to make their stories appear more interesting.”
  • YC Demographics | YCombinator (January 14): “Based on analyzing a random sample of 5% of YC winter 2015 applicants, 11.8% of the founders who applied were women and around 3% percent of the founders were either Black or Hispanic.
    Of the founders we funded in our most recent batch, 11.1% of the founders are women (about 23% of the startups have one or more female founders), 3.7% of the founders are Hispanic, and 4% of the founders are Black.”
  • Announcing AdaCamp Montreal: apply now to join us in Montreal in April! | Ada Initiative (January 14): “AdaCamp Montreal, our seventh AdaCamp, will be held in downtown Montreal, Quebec, Canada. on April 13th–14th, 2015, just after PyCon. The event will involve an unconference held over the two days, along with evening social events.” “Deadline for applications requesting travel assistance is Friday, February 13 2015; all other applications are due February 27th or earlier depending on demand. (we recommend you apply ASAP)”
  • Corporate social responsibility and open source volunteering | Growstuff (January 15): “Does your company have a corporate social responsibility (CSR) program? Do your staff volunteer on community projects as part of it? Do your software engineers or other technical staff offer their skills to community organisations or other good causes? If you run an open source project, especially one related to a social cause, have you ever invited companies to participate in your project as part of their CSR efforts? How do you make it easy for CSR volunteers to help out?…Here are some of my tips for successfully matching corporate volunteers with open source projects, and working productively together.”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

What to expect when you’re linkspamming (16 January 2015)

  • The Top 10 (%) Tech Rules by Leslie Miley | Model View Culture: “This process is so biased it’s amazing it still exists. Every step along the way, exclusionary hurdles are introduced to limit the candidate pool. Sourcers are directed to specific companies and instructed to focus on certain schools. Recruiters are told by hiring managers that they prefer certain companies and schools over others. By the time candidates are in the on-site interview it’s clear they went to the right school, worked at the right companies and in the case of employee referrals, know the right people. They are shepherded through the process much like a child is taken to their first day at preschool.”
  • “Misogyny in the Valley”| Consulting Adult: “Women need space to be themselves at work. Until people who have created their success by worshipping at the temple of male behavior, like Sheryl Sandberg, learn to value alternate behaviors, the working world will remain a foreign and hostile culture to women. And if we do not continuously work to build corporate cultures where there is room for other behaviors, women will be cast from or abandoned in a world not of our making, where we continuously ‘just do not fit in,’ but where we still must go to earn our livings.”
  • Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg on Why Women Stay Quiet at Work | NYTimes.com: “Suspecting that powerful women stayed quiet because they feared a backlash, Professor Brescoll looked deeper. She asked professional men and women to evaluate the competence of chief executives who voiced their opinions more or less frequently. Male executives who spoke more often than their peers were rewarded with 10 percent higher ratings of competence. When female executives spoke more than their peers, both men and women punished them with 14 percent lower ratings. As this and other research shows, women who worry that talking “too much” will cause them to be disliked are not paranoid; they are often right.”
  • Preliminary Results From WIGI, The Wikipedia Gender Inequality Index | notconfusing: “WIGI is the Wikipedia Gender Inequality Index, a project whose purpose is to attempt to gain insight into the gender gap through understanding which humans are represented in Wikipedia. Professor Piotr Konieczny, and myself thought that, whereas some gender gap research focuses on the editors of Wikipedia directly, we would view the content and metadata of articles as a proxy measure for those editing.”
  • Quinnspiracy Blog – 2015: Zoe Quinn checks in at the start of 2015.
  • Stop Centering the Majority in Minority Space | Julie Pagano: “Underrepresented groups get so few spaces where they are the focus. Spaces where they get to see people like themselves on stage and learn from them. Spaces where people like them are prioritized. Seeing someone from the majority in a position of prominence in that space is demoralizing. It means that yet again the majority is given priority, even in a space that isn’t supposed to be about them. It’s especially a punch to the gut when someone you actually want to hear from is on the stage as a glorified prop — an interviewer to ask questions.”
  • She Makes Comics: A New Documentary Explores the History of Women in Comics | Bitch Magazine: “Marisa Stotter is the director of She Makes Comics, a self-described feminist and geek who moved to Los Angeles to work in the film industry in 2013. After She Makes Comics was released last month, we talked on the phone about her experience directing a film for the first time, her hope that more people begin to participate in comic culture, and the importance of celebrating women’s achievements in the comics scene. Watch the trailer below.”
  • Is ‘SimCity’ Homelessness a Bug or a Feature? | Motherboard: “For Bittanti, it’s impossible not to see the connections between the homeless problem in the Bay Area and the way it’s portrayed in SimCity. ‘That is, can we fix homelessness in SimCity, or because we haven’t fixed homelessness as a problem in real life, therefore we are bound to lose?’ Bittanti asked. ‘Is SimCity a reflection of what’s happening in reality, and therefore is very realistic, or is it a programming issue?'”
  • Dalhousie turns down formal faculty complaint against Facebook ‘Gentlemen’: [CW: rape; use of drugs to facilitate rape; medical abuse] Apparently, half the male students at the Dalhousie dental school made jokes on Facebook about raping sedated women. The university administration, unsurprisingly, isn’t handling it well.
  • “scott aaronson has dug himself into a bit of a hole”: “scott aaronson has dug himself into a bit of a hole, and it’s picking at scabs of mine, so i’m going to try to do a bit of a response from the perspective of a woman in STEM who has for a long time admired aaronson’s work… i haven’t yet seen a response from someone who a) is within STEM, who knows exactly what it’s like to have people like scott as colleagues and mentors, and b) has commented on the mental illness/neuro-atypicality aspect of things that scott describes as an affliction unique to male nerds.”
  • How People You’ve Never Heard of Got To Be the Most Powerful Users on Pinterest | Backchannel — Medium: “The story of how these (mostly) women won a jackpot they never entered is one that reveals how conference room strategizing in a social media startup’s early years can have lasting and meaningful consequences for its members’ lives. What might have been for Pinterest a temporary experiment — a way of recommending accounts to solve an onboarding headache or high bounce rate — has, for some Pinterest users, persisted for years as a source of income, bewildering attention and uncertainty.”
  • “To anthology editors”, a corollary | Epiphany 2.0: “Anthology editors, if you really don’t understand why reading a diverse range of authors for your anthology is a good idea, don’t try to fake it. Don’t try to do it anyway just to avoid controversy. Do some reading — starting with her essay — have difficult conversations with your friends, push the boundaries of your comfort zones, do whatever you have to do to get it. Then? Then we can talk.”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.