We all owe a little bit to Jane Pratt. When I say "we," I mean my generation, the generation before mine, and the generation that follows me. Growing up as a wannabe fashion writer, I admired her ingenuity and success--she was cool, she was smart, and most importantly, she made "it" happen for herself. As a reader, I appreciated her honesty. It's undeniable, especially as a teenager, that women's magazines in particular can make you feel less than adequate. With Sassy, then Jane, Pratt gave women a place to be themselves. Instead of dictating what you should be, Pratt's world celebrated who you were.
From this nostalgic and unabashedly fawning intro, it's obvious I'm a huge fan of Jane Pratt's. So when I was offered the chance for Pratt to walk me through XOJane.com just a day before the launch of the site, I said yes with wild enthusiasm. But I was determined not to make a decision about whether or not I liked the content until I, you know, read the content.
So yesterday I took the train up to Say Media, a company that does everything from selling online advertising to launching websites (including XOJane), to see what Pratt and co. have produced.
The XOJane office is a windowless room, with a long table in the middle that's covered in Jane magazines stuffed with tabs. Interns have scribbled all over the walls with (presumably) erasable markers. Pratt sits in one corner, her deputy--managing editor Emily McCombs--in another, and her beauty editor Cat Marnell in another. Yesterday, McCombs, Pratt, and another contributor were busily typing away when I arrived, and there's an intensity in the room that can't be matched. There's a lot riding on Pratt and her staff--the office has a Wild West feeling that I always imagined existing at Sassy and Jane.
Soon enough, Pratt's sidled up to the conference table with her lunch and a smile. What, exactly, does this project mean to Pratt? Why, years after her departure from Jane, did the magazine editor and current radio talk show host decide to navigate the murky waters of the internet?
"It's kind of a combination of different media that I've done," she said. "I liken this experience more to the live talk radio and live TV. It's a living, breathing thing. In the time that it took [to broker a deal with Say and launch the site], it gave me more time to learn this medium and formulate what I really wanted to do."
It's not that Pratt is over print. She's still keen on creating a magazine targeted towards women 35 and up at some point, because she has "a vision for it that's a little different from what's out there." But now is "not the right time."
The interwebs, on the other hand, are ready for her. Pratt called XOJane the "anti-IVillage" in Friday's AdWeek, but for someone who has never looked at iVillage, let me break it down for you: Pratt and her contributors write about things they like (Pepto Bismol facials), things they hate (guys who don't use smart phones), things they've done wrong, things they've done right. We've all heard that Sassy and Jane legendary columns "It Happened to Me" and "Makeunder" are back, but there's more: Pratt's offering up an edited look inside her iPhone--from texts to IMs to emails--as well as an advice column. (Exp. query: "Is My Husband Gay?" Pratt says that in most cases, if you've got to ask that question, the answer is yes.)
One thing XOJane doesn't have? a nasty edge. As a reader, what irks me most about most of the "lady writing" on the Web these days is that it's so angry. While Pratt says there's a lot of content on the web that she likes--"If Sassy and Jane had any part in influencing the voices, particularly female voices, that are out there, I'm proud and pleased to be part of it"--she doesn't want her site to be mean-spirited.
"I was talking to Christina Kelly [former Sassy staffer and XOJane contributor] recently about more of the nastier stuff about celebrities we might have done in Sassy," she said. "I'm not interested in being mean. Positivity is really important to me. Inclusiveness is really important to me. Being non-judgmental--I think I've become more that way over the years."
Pratt's site may be for everyone, but she has chosen to exclude something major in this launch: Tavi Gevinson's teen site. "At one point we talked about having it as a channel, but really what it came down to...I feel like with teen stuff...I feel like they do still want their own place. That it's not a place for their teachers, or their moms."
Still excited for it, even though you're way beyond your teenage years? Look out for a launch sooner than later. "It's a niche that she and I are really excited about filling. It's a gaping void in my view--a place for girls to congregate [on the web]."
But the Tavi-Jane collaboration is only one project peppering Pratt's pipeline. In a 1992 NYTimes profile of Pratt that ran previous to the launch of her talk show, the then-29-year-old editor talked about escaping to Film Forum to indulge in her true obsession: "When this is all over--the magazines, the television show--she'd like to direct documentaries herself, a way, perhaps, to segue from adolescence to adulthood."
I wondered, years after Pratt became a full-fledged "adult"--her daughter is now 8-years-old--does she still want to make documentaries?
"Magazines was always the commercial dream, documentary films are the deep, abiding love," she said. "I actually filmed a ton of stuff with me and my daughter about six months ago that I would really like to turn into a documentary."
But Jane Pratt's passion project will just have to wait. Today, she has a website to launch.
Visit xojane.com. Now.