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A Birdee in the hand

01 October 2013

Early in 2012 Hayley Gleeson began scoping out online in relation to what was available for young women in Australia. More specifically, she was looking for a place where young women could go to express themselves and their opinions. Working with her colleagues at The Hoopla, the online news and opinion site for women, they found a big fat zero.

It seems the media landscape is lacking the voices of young women.

Speaking to Ruby by phone late one Friday afternoon, Hayley, who is based in Melbourne, epitomises the modern worker. She spends the bulk of her time on Skype with the head office publishing and editorial team, travelling to Sydney for meetings every few weeks.

We’re chatting over the phone, a more traditional piece of technology, and I can’t help wondering out loud if the voice of young men has suffered the same fate as the voice of young women?

Young men may dominate in IT roles, but it doesn’t strike me that they would be the sort of people who get involved in deep online dialogue about news, current affairs, life, and so on?

“Women, I reckon,” answers Hayley, “want to talk about stuff more than men in that deep engaged way we have. It’s why online communities like The Hoopla and now Birdee have such amazing dialogue. If we look back to early man, it’s sort of in our genes: we’re the befrienders and tenders.

“That’s not saying men don’t want to talk and don’t talk. They do it in very different ways. I think men are having conversations privately - a lot are in touch through email, closed email groups, they share content on Facebook, they’re on crikey, twitter,” explains Hayley, who definitely sees an opportunity for someone out there to develop a place where young men can go to express themselves.

However, for Hayley and the team at The Hoopla, including publisher Jane Waterhouse (who specialises in targeting women), it was the young women and their needs that had captured their imaginations.

Careful and lengthy research with the target group followed, and then Birdee, the peer to peer news and opinion site for young women who want to be seen, heard and acknowledged, was finally launched on July 4 this year.

Hayley is Birdee’s editor. She also works on The Hoopla, and has a double degree in marketing, advertising and journalism.

“Birdee was never going to be about one thing and was always going to be by young women for young women. Young women are fiercely passionate feminists and they understand that feminism is a conversation in which we all must be involved – guys as well.

“Young women are also hugely interested in popular culture, health, mental health, art. One of Birdee’s goals is to showcase and encourage creativity,” explains Hayley, numbering off the interests of Birdee’s audience.

“Sex,” she continues, “is another important topic. It was one of the conversations we really wanted to get right from the start. We wanted the dialogue to be healthy and open.

“There’s a lot of pressure on girls to become sexually active really early and what’s on offer in your Cosmo or Cleo magazines, which is very focussed on male pleasure, doesn’t put young women and their needs and feelings first. We knew sex was going to figure and we had to know how to tackle that conversation and tackle it well - around navigating sex for the first time, having healthy relationships, healthy sexual relationships. It’s a confusing and confronting time for young women.”

Having determined that the white space existed and that a vocal engaged audience was waiting to fill it, Hayley also knew from her own experience growing up that the existing publications and their online presences were not catering for difference.

“Magazines assume girls are one size and one shape and that you can’t like a collection of different things. To me it always felt like if you liked politics then you couldn’t like funny, silly stuff, or fashion and food. There was no diversity. When I was younger that made me feel crap about myself - that I didn’t fit. Young women often say they’re made to feel insignificant - like they and their opinions don’t count. That’s often because people don’t think of or see them as adults. Instead they’re brushed off as silly little girls.

“That’s so far from the truth and we know that because of Birdee. Young women contribute to conversations around the news and current affairs, politics, fashion, health, everything… they have very considered and developed opinions.”

Certainly, if the recent launch in America of bustle.com is any indicator about the potential of the space for young women, then Birdee is on the right path.

According to Lizzie Widdicombe in a recent New Yorker article where she spoke to Bustle’s founder Bryan Goldberg, “he referred to Bustle as ‘the next great women’s publication.’”

He also hopes in six years “that Bustle will attract fifty million visitors each month and earn more than a hundred million dollars a year in advertising revenue, making it the ‘biggest and the most powerful women’s publication in the world.’”

No one would deny that’s a big goal but that such a success would be something to look forward to and be a part of.

“There was a lot of fuss about Bustle and its male founder when it launched,” says Hayley, who personally thinks the site has some great content but that the design and general execution let it down.

“Without the female staff it wouldn’t work,” says Hayley, who goes on to say that, “not all women are opposed to the idea of a male at the helm of a publication for women. Women don't necessarily want to be given a special little play area just for them – they want to be treated as intelligent equals and be involved in inclusive conversations that encourage participation from everyone. The key is delivering great content – whether that comes from a male, female or otherwise is often not as important as the message.”

And the message, when it comes down to it, well it has to be honest and real.

“It's important to understand your target reader – it certainly helps if your content creators are of a similar demographic because it allows readers to connect better with the writers… the ‘we're in the same boat’ sort of thing.”

“From a publishing perspective being honest and real builds trust. Trust with readers, with people, is so important, particularly for brands. If you want people to keep coming back then the relationships you build have to be based in trust. Brands are now accountable for everything they do and the internet has further developed that aspect. Consumers hold brands accountable and that is a really cool situation.” 

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