The XX Factor

I Don’t Want to Skimm the News

The iPad as accessory. 

Photo by CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images

Alyssa, you’re right that we’re past the point where it makes any sense to complain about news aggregation. Twitter churns out its 140-character info pellets; web mags shower us in cutesy bullet points; blogs vie daily to out-SparkNote each other, offering shorter and smarter takes on the same silage. I’m looking forward to the day when reporters are forced to sum up entire articles in a single word, maybe an invented one, like Rompollbad or UseSpuds. And yes, we’re all busy (or fake-busy), so these abridged data feeds can help us stay current when the alternative is living in ignorance. But still: A line exists between conceding to reality and reveling in the superficiality of your interest in the rest of the world, and theSkimm crosses that line.

I don’t object to the fact that the newsletters’ creators, Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin, live in New York and are young and attractive. But I think their mission statement—“[simplifying] the headlines for the educated professional…breaking down what you need to know to start the conversation”—is revealing. Weisberg and Zakin seem to consider informed chitchat the goal and teleological endpoint of news consumption. They offer a section called “Repeat After Me,” with subheads like “What to say on a date,” “What to say to your boss,” “What to say while getting your nails done,” “What to say while at drinks with your girlfriends.”It all unfolds in a quippy voice that would make sense coming from Hannah Horvath on Girls.

theSkimm wants to reach professional women in their twenties and thirties. Its creators (quite sensibly) seem to think the best way to do this is to trade on stereotypes that reflect “our” aspirations. But according to them, what are these aspirations? To say all the right things in all the relevant social scenarios. To fake it, if necessary. To appear rather than to be. Somehow this is all summed up in the newsletter’s logo: a super-skinny woman in pearls and expensive-looking heels, gazing nonchalantly into an iPad. 

I understand the value of coming prepared to a social exchange, but would it kill theSkimm’s writers to at least pretend that we’d spend more time on news stories if we could, perhaps by hyperlinking to longer articles? And do they have to couch items in the kind of arch, self-conscious patter that implies we care more about impressing a date than understanding what’s going on in the world?

Finally, I agree that “It’s not only busy professional women who could stand to get breakdowns of issues and downloads of gossip.” Alyssa, you write that “theSkimm may be oriented toward women, but it’s just a repackaging of the gender-neutral act of headline scanning that most people do every day.” It’s this gendered repackaging of a perfectly normal act that I think bugs me most about theSkimm. The newsletter seeks to appeal to women, specifically, by playing up social performance. Another site might emphasize “the ability to ask decent questions” for learning’s sake; Weisberg and Zakin are writing for those ladies (they’re always ladies) who lack “the time or interest.”

I wish I got the sense that theSkimm wanted to help us “get more out of our conversations” with “people who know more…than we do.” But I suspect it really exists so that we can cover our butts and make a good impression. That may be a useful service, but it’s not a journalistic one.