The Mary Sue has undergone some big changes recently, changes which have made a lot of our longtime (and newer) readers unhappy. And, on that subject, we’d like to ask you to hear us out on a few things.
Readers, first let me start out by introducing myself for those who aren’t familiar. My name is Jill Pantozzi, currently the Editor in Chief of The Mary Sue in charge of the day to day running of the site as well as approximately 10,000 other things. I began as an intern at the website years ago under Managing Editor Susana Polo, moved up to Associate Editor, then Managing Editor, and now to my current position (Susana started as an intern on Geekosystem, founded The Mary Sue, and is now the site’s Editor at Large). It’s meant a lot to me as a writer who started her own blog back in 2008 to make this journey with The Mary Sue and I truly appreciate all who have stuck with me, or joined me, along the way.
Let me next say my apologies for this particular note coming when it has. The entire staff has had a lot on our respective plates the last few months working toward the merger, and especially in the last few weeks. It was extremely scary for us but also very exciting, as we all looked forward to the next stage but couldn’t talk about it publicly. I’ve realized recently a lot of our readership had no idea The Mary Sue wasn’t just run by a few women for fun in their spare time but a professional site under the umbrella of Abrams Media, in a network with several other sites. Susana Polo, Rebecca Pahle, and myself are staff writers making a living doing something we love to pieces, which is probably why it was easy to make that assumption. But as writers by trade, we could never have produced The Mary Sue on our own. None of us can design, code, pitch to ad executives, or, heck, even put together a payroll, all vital parts of running a website of our size and breadth of coverage that we are lucky to have covered by other parts of our company.
We have never been strictly directed on editorial content for the site, and we have never been asked to tone down our feminist content. There are certain things we were beholden to and are still beholden to, many of which we won’t talk about publicly. That’s not because we’re being secretly micromanaged or pressured to act against our principles: it’s because we’re part of a business entity, and that’s the reality of being a part of a business entity. On that, you have the word of all of our writers and editors.
That being said, we know the merger came as a shock to a majority of you, and we’re sorry for that. We also had some technical difficulties and mishaps on our end the day of the merger which made it not go quite as smoothly as we hoped. We expected a certain amount of feedback about the changes, but some of the angles the feedback took (and continues to take) was entirely unexpected. That’s coming from our limited perspective, of course, of two groups of geeky writers with a female majority, working next to each other, sharing jokes, fandom discussions, and an office, seeing how often our content overlapped and figuring it made sense the higher-ups wanted to combine our efforts for the best outcome possible. We know change is difficult, it has been for the staff as well, but we were not prepared for what we heard from you. We had many discussions internally and decided the best initial course was to first let the content speak for itself. The time has come, however, to clear up a few misconceptions we’ve been seeing about the recent changes.
Folks have been saying over and over we’ve stripped the words “feminism” or “feminist” from the website. This is completely untrue. Those words never appeared in any permanent place on the website. Readers knew we were a site with feminist ideals because of the years of content we put out to that effect. We covered news from our feminist perspectives but not every piece on the site felt the need to touch on feminism. It’s always been our position that female geeks are just as interested in sarlacc pit toilet decals as they are in the debate over a lack of new female characters in Star Wars: Episode VII. However, our old “About Us” description listed “women,” “geek women,” and “geek girls” specifically and our site tagline read “A Guide to Geek Girl Culture.” The tagline is no longer there per orders from above and the “About Us” was altered on merger day to a paragraph I personally wrote intending to meld our two worlds together. After all, it was also my job to welcome a whole other community into our fold. I did not purposefully leave out the words “feminism” or “women,” but I did specifically choose the word “inclusive” because it felt right. Inclusive is just that, covering from all perspectives, which is what The Mary Sue has always stood for. After seeing the outpouring of emotional responses from you, we reconsidered the importance of specifically mentioning women on our “About Us” page, and determined that we agreed. It is important for us to specifically state we are a successful geek site whose success has come primarily from focusing on women in geek spaces. A week after the merger, we altered the “About Us” in an effort to let our regular readers know we still stand for what we’ve always stood for, and what is very important to you, and are still a destination for geeky women. We sincerely apologize for allowing you to feel like this was no longer the case.
We’ve also heard the site will no longer have a feminist perspective at all. This is also false. We picked up all of Geekosystem’s content, a lot of which overlapped with our own. We also picked up and will continue to include their content on science, technology, space, weird internet news, etc. We occasionally found time to feature these subjects on The Mary Sue, because we knew our readers would love to hear about them, but never had a great handle on them. After getting our sea-legs, editorial-management-wise, we’ve been producing more than twice as much content in the same amount of time, and have also been working hard to include new, regular features we think you’ll love. Again, not every single article on the site will directly reference feminism or women, but again, that wasn’t how the site was run pre-merger either.
We did not get rid of any of our logos because 1.) we absolutely love them and 2.) we think they also represent what the site was, and still is, about. However, we’ve been having issues with them rotating so you may not see them all until that’s sorted. We also added an astronaut and robot to the mix. We’ve heard folks saying there’s been an influx of badly behaved commenters, which is a little hard to definitively refute. But to speak from the perspective of long-time comment moderators, badly behaved commenters tend to come in waves which correlate with a new source of attention placed on the site, waves that are much more visible from the moderation panel than the site itself. The merger was potentially one of those sources (we anticipated this, and prepared for it by publishing our moderation policy for the first time). While there was an influx of new readers, it has not seemed relatively out of proportion compared to other high-attention times in the site’s history. We always do our utmost best to prune our comments section of those who are detrimental to conversation without instantly quashing dissenting opinions. We encourage everybody to read our comments policy, and to flag comments they feel violate it.
We’ve heard others saying we were acquired by a larger company, possibly stemming from the misconception I previously mentioned of The Mary Sue as a site run by part-time fan writers. That is not true. The Mary Sue was founded as a sister site to Geekosystem, as a part of the Abrams Media network and remains in that network. We’ve since become the big sister, as reflected in the preservation of our name, logo, mission, and editorial hierarchy during the merger.
I’ve also been seeing people confused about who is in charge and who is now working for The Mary Sue. Susana has taken on a slightly different perspective as Editor at Large to help the site grow and be the best it can be. That’s where I come in, as Editor in Chief, to run the site daily. Glen Tickle, previously the head of Geekosystem, works directly under me to cover the more Geeko-stories and facilitate site growth as well. He did not redesign the website nor did he make decisions about what verbiage would or would not be on the site permanently. Geekosystem writers, one man (Dan Van Winkle) and three women (Victoria McNally, Carolyn Cox, and Sam Maggs) have also joined us to provide content for the site. Everyone from The Mary Sue, (Susana, Jill, Rebecca and Becky Chambers) has remained. I’d like to let Glen take over for a bit here so you can hear from him as well:
Hello, everyone. The merger has meant a lot of changes for everyone including the former staff of Geekosystem. We had our homeworld destroyed as part of this merger, and as much as we like working with The Mary Sue now, that loss is still hard for us. Geekosystem was a home I will never have again. It was and continues to be a very emotional ride. Geekosystem’s last day was particularly difficult for me personally for many reasons.
The day of the merger came, and by the time I got into the office that morning feedback had already started coming in. When anything changes on the Internet there’s a certain amount of backlash, but what I was surprised to find was much of it was aimed at the Geekosystem staff and me personally. It was frustrating at an already emotional time, and in that frustration I tweeted some tweets. Since then people have latched on to them as evidence that I’m some terrible misogynist. Please believe me when I say, I am not.
If two tweets would form the whole of someone’s opinion of me, I certainly wouldn’t pick those two. It wasn’t my best moment. I won’t say the tweets were taken out of context or that they were jokes. My account wasn’t hacked. I wasn’t drunk. They came from a place of depressed frustration and aren’t things I actually believe. I’m not proud of them.
As for my job as Managing Editor at The Mary Sue, my primary role is to manage the science and technology categories. None of the writers have ever, or will ever be told not to focus on women in geek culture, science, space, technology, or any other category by myself or any of the other editors of The Mary Sue. It was already a focus at Geekosystem and will continue to be a focus in the future.
A few other things: While we’ve heard your feedback on the content and direction of the site, we’ve also heard your feedback on the look and otherwise technical issues. Those issues are being heard and addressed. Unfortunately, we’ve had a small shake up on the tech side of the business so things are moving slower on that end, but rest assured, it’s being worked on and will be updated as we continue along.
As I mentioned earlier, I apologize for the timing of this message. The feedback was unexpected and heartbreaking for us. Our best intentions came out all wrong and we’ll never get a do-over (oh to have one ride in the TARDIS!). We know we’ve lost some of you forever and we’ll never forget that. Our hope that the content would speak for itself was wrong and we continue to strive to prove to you we’re still a safe, highly moderated community with content you care about, either deeply or just on a “squee” level. We’ve been hearing you all along and have taken it all to heart. Upon returning from a bereavement leave I noticed a resurgence in the feedback in our inboxes and social media channels as well as my personal accounts, and wanted to speak to all of you directly so you could know a bit more about our perspective, and also clear the air of the misconceptions we’ve seen getting passed around as fact. We hope this gives everybody a better understanding of the issues we’ve been observing on the site and off, but we also understand if it’s too little, too late for some. Thank you for your time, we truly love our readership and we’re not sure how many websites out there today can say that. Hope to see you soon.