TBD sex-and-gender columnist Amanda Hess ends her tenure here today. As of June 15, she'll be working as Los Angeles-based Good Magazine's lifestyle editor. Here's an exit interview.
Q: What does the lifestyle editor at Good do?
Hess: I'll be writing and editing stuff for the website and the quarterly magazine. I'll be doing four to five posts a day and bringing in others on a freelance basis. My coverage areas are sex, food, drink, death, products, travel, and health.
Q: Sprawling beat there.
Hess: Well, haven't started yet. I will be able to bring in freelancers. I think I'm going to have to find a narrower focus.
Q: Duh. So have you had it with Washington, D.C.?
Hess: Before I got the job, was really looking to get out; and once I got the job, I've noticed some things that I'll really miss, like bike lanes...the air quality, the low fashion sense. It's not very fashionable around here.
Q: Why's that good?
Hess: Because I really don't want to have to think about that.
Q: Yeah, but you bought a blue dress at a crafts fair once!
Hess: I did, and look where that got me.
Q: What are this area's negatives, in your estimation?
Hess: I am in my-mid-20s---I'll be 26 on June 4---and I am not interested in living in the same place and settling down there. I want to live in different places in my youth, and I really liked reporting locally but I'm interested in reporting on national stuff.
Q:Is that what Good will enable you to do?
Hess: Yeah, it'll be a new environment for reporting and there's a big sex industry out there, which I think will be really interesting. Writing about sex in D.C. was limited in a lot of ways.
Q:Let's get into that. You covered a lot of transgender issues around here, and you wrote a lot about how news organizations and others referred incorrectly to the genders of transgendered people. Did that drive you nuts?
Hess: It was really interesting to me because it was where politics came up against AP style. Not la huge style stickler myself for AP style, but other organizations are and if they use AP style, they need to use the pronouns that the transgendered people prefer; but it's a political thing because they don't agree that these people should be referred to by their preferred pronoun.
A lot of reporters didn't have specific political perspective on it, but they just didn't know. And in the Washington Post, they ended up having to print several updated stories and corrected stories because they couldn't get it right the first time, the second time, the third time.
Q: Another big issue for you was rape and sexual assault and how news organizations handled it. How's it going with this DSK case? What, if any, details about the victim can you publish?
Hess: It's important to have as much detail as possible without stepping over privacy. If there are no details, then people will automatically dismiss it. It's important to include the fact that she was working at that hotel, who she called afterward, where it happened. Those, I think, are really important. Where she lived, her HIV status, are totally inappropriate.
Q: Any biographical details on the alleged victim?
Hess: Those details can be used either way. If you report that she's an immigrant, then people will say, what's she doing in the United States. They'll say, she's probably just making it up so that she can stay here. All those personal details are going to be used against that person no matter how innocuous they seem.
Q: You've been working for guys for a while. That's going to change in L.A. Excited about this change?
Hess: It's really important to me. I am happy to be working for Ann [Friedman] specifically, but beyond that, I'm interested in working for a woman.
Hess: It's important for me to be around women and to have women as mentors because journalism is still male-dominated and I don't like that.
Q: What strain of feminist are you?
Hess: I don't identify with any of those.
Q: I'd say you're a "shut-up" feminist. As in, people say bigoted things about women and sexual minorities, and you write an eloquent blog post telling them why they should shut up.
Hess: I'm OK with that.
Q: Your work reflects a person with high standards regarding how people treat women and sexual minorities. Are you murder on friends and significant others? Are you the ultimate sex-and-gender propriety tyrant?
Hess: No. Some people expect that from me, but when you're writing a column, it's best to have an air of authority. And it's best not to have that air of authority in private life. If there's a friend of mine that makes a rape joke among friends, it may be something that I'll talk to them about. But that's not the same thing as making it in a movie or making it in a major newspaper. And I'm not perfect, either. I'll make comments that I realize are sexist. Like sometimes I'll call someone a bitch.
Q: Zat sexist?
Hess: I believe that's a sexist term.
Q: OK, well that's a good place as any to end.