Women's Lib: Kaylen Ralph Talks Riveting Storytelling
How did men ever think they could own longform?
Kaylen Ralph is working to close the byline gender gap in longform storytelling. The University of Missouri School of Journalism grad has taken her passion for great reporting to create a publication that showcases women journalists—a/k/a the raddest quarterly mag, The Riveter.
While studying journalism, Kaylen couldn’t help but notice that male bylines continued to dominate longform journalism and annual awards in the field. Determined to provide an outlet for talented women writers, she and classmate Joanna Demkiewicz co-founded The Riveter, a longform women’s lifestyle magazine made by women for women.
Since launching in 2013, the mag has featured awesome ladies like HBO Girls writer Sarah Heyward, author of The Girl on the Train Paula Hawkins, and Hairpin editor Haley Mlotek. And, spoiler alert, Lizz Winstead, co-creator of The Daily Show and writer of the hilarious collection of essays Lizz Free or Die, is the cover star of the upcoming issue. In the era of the listicle, The Riveter is the thoughtful publication with meat on its bones that you really should be reading, if you aren’t already.
Recently, The Kind caught up with Kaylen, The Riveter’s co-founder, editorial development director and brand director, to talk about the hustle, lady-journos who are *killin* it, and what’s up next for my favorite women’s lifestyle mag.
THE KIND: How did The Riveter happen?
Kaylen: Joanna Demkiewicz and I originally had the idea for The Riveter in the spring of 2012 while we were juniors at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Unfortunately, 2012 was not a banner year for women in the literary arts, let alone longform journalism. The VIDA Count 2012 was a goddamn disaster, and on top of that, not one women was nominated in a major feature writing or reporting category for that year’s National Magazine Awards (essentially the Academy Awards of the journalism community). As two aspiring magazine journalists, this was more than disappointing, it was infuriating.
Flash forward one year, to the spring of 2013, when we weren’t just students, but two soon-to-be graduates, and the grim reality of our professional landscape seemed totally impossible. We decided to forgo the traditional job search (which honestly seemed fruitless) in favor of starting something of our own, and hopefully something that could eventually tip the industry’s scales in women’s favor. With help very early on from our amazing designer, Theresa Berens, we were able to put out an initial first issue after crowdfunding $2,000 via indiegogo.
Shortly after releasing Issue 1, in July 2013, we moved to Minneapolis, where The Riveter is currently based. Natalie Cheng, our first joining partner, joined us here in 2014 after the release of Issue 3, and last spring, we successfully implemented a quarterly subscription model using Kickstarter as our organization platform. There are so many people who made that possible, first and foremost the hundreds of readers who took the plunge and subscribed for a full year as soon as the opportunity was available.
When The Riveter was in the Star Tribune on the front page of the A&E section!
THE KIND: Why longform?
Kaylen: The industry trend toward listicles and “shortform” persists, but we started The Riveter because we wanted to give women a platform for the meaningful writing and reporting that men have been getting acknowledged for for years. It didn’t seem right for the industry to enter a new phase before women were even given the opportunity to show their stuff, as far as longform goes. I think that today, it’s become clear that longform isn’t going anywhere, there will always be a hunger for it, but in 2012/2013, that wasn’t a guaranteed thing. The Riveter’s form is a direct result of its function, or at least the function we desire for it to fulfill. It’s smaller than any other quarterly because we want it to be accessible and approachable, like actually; we want you to be able to slip it into your bag or even your pocket and continuously pick up where you left off before your bus arrived, your lunch break ended, or before you fell asleep in bed with the mag open on your face and a glass of something delicious next to you on your bedside table.
THE KIND: Each issue of The Riveter feels so thoughtful and special. How does it all come together?
Kaylen: A lot of people work their asses off because they believe in our mission and would do anything to see this publication grow and succeed in order to reach more and more people and publish more amazing work by women. Joanna, Natalie, Theresa, and I all have full-time jobs in addition to The Riveter, but so does everyone else who works for us and makes this magazine so special and unique. Can I use this opportunity to thank them all? Okay, here I go: Megan Molteni, Grace Molteni, Victoria Campbell, Grace Birnstengel, Jillian Deutsch, Kinzy Janssen, Derek Huber.
w/ The Riveter's art director/photographer Victoria Campbell (who I co-founded Bird Dog Creative with this year) at our Kickstarter launch party at Proper & Prim in spring 2014
THE KIND: What advice would you give to someone aspiring to bring their passion to life?
Kaylen: The dream is free, but the hustle is sold separately. I freaking love that line, and I don't even know where I originally heard it, but it’s so true. A lot of people have dreams and aspirations, but actually enacting them, finding the right people who can do what you want to do but even better, building a team and allowing your own interests to evolve on behalf of your collective passion are all very important lessons. I *try* to check in with myself every so often, like, “Hey, girl, how YOU doin’?” just to make sure that I still feel good about the way I spend my time and where my energy is allocated. As long as you can answer yourself honestly and positively during those little conversations with yourself, I say keep truckin’.
THE KIND: Tell me about your influences, favorite journalists, and favorite publications.
Kaylen: My favorite publications are The Gentlewoman and Esquire. Early on, we envisioned The Riveter as being “the female Esquire,” even though it’s become so much more than that, definitely a breed of it’s own. We’ve featured many of my favorite writers and editors on or in The Riveter, which is great. To name a (very) few: Sloane Crosley (you can get a peek inside her purse in Issue 3, out now, which is pretty cool), Ann Friedman (I love her “Call Your Girlfriend” podcast with Aminatou Sow so much!), Deena Drewis, editor at Nouvella (a “small” publishing house I love). Issue 4, which will be released in January (and is available for pre-sale now!) features Lizz Winstead, who co-created The Daily Show and is the founder of Lady Parts Justice, an organization which self-describes as “a cabal of comics and writers exposing creeps hellbent on destroying access to birth control and abortion.” I am so excited to feature Lizz and share her story, who really is O.G. inspo for women advocating on behalf of other women.
THE KIND: What’s next for The Riveter?
Kaylen: So much is happening! Ahhhh! Like I said, Issue 4 comes out next month (so you should snap up your copy like, now); we are in the midst of a fabulous web redesign that will prioritize our print platform even more; we're focusing on broadening the scope of our strategic brand partnerships, throwing more fun and diverse events, overthrowing the patriarchy, taking over the world...etc. Oh, and building our stockists, of course :).
THE KIND: How can we get our hands on The Riveter?
Kaylen: You can purchase The Riveter via our online shop, and if you're in Minneapolis, you can find us at Wilson & Willy's, Proper & Prim, or Magers & Quinn.
Each week "Women's Lib" checks in with amazing ladies and we make them fill out a feminist Mad Lib.