We Honor 21 Leaders Tonight, And You, Our Readers

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(WOMENSENEWS)—Tonight, Mary Fisher, a long-time activist for women with HIV-AIDS , will not be able to attend as an honoree the Women’s eNews 21 Leader for the 21st Century. Instead, she sent a letter to be read aloud at the event that said this about Women’s eNews.

“Each time you report the truth in defense of defenseless women, you give us reason to raise the banner of hope. Each time you write an editorial or publish a story that shines the light on women’s suffering, you relieve the darkness of ignorance and fear. I cannot imagine a more necessary, or more heroic, work than yours.”

I don’t feel heroic. All I can feel is gratitude. With your support, I have the best job ever in journalism: guiding a publication that changed the definition of news to include the actual experiences of women and girls. Of leading an enterprise with a mission to enhance the well-being of women and girls by using every skill I had gained as an investigative reporter and learning more, so much more.

The highest ambition for many journalists is to produce stories that save lives. It’s high standard but Women’s eNews has met that with our series on maternal mortality in the United States. This country has the highest rates of any developed nation and it is rising.

Both the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the federal Health and Human Services Department within the past several months announced that they were prioritizing maternal mortality prevention by such methods as training labor room staff to deal with emergencies. (Can you imagine it took public pressure for the health care system to come up with this?)

Many forces converged to make this happen, yet we know that Women’s eNews’ consistent investigative reporting on the underlying causes of the death rate of the nation’s new mothers, especially African Americans, played a significant role in this dramatic shift in the nation’s maternal health care priorities.

Partners in This Work

You are my partners in this work. You email me when Women’s eNews does it just right as well as when we fall short. Thank you for your love and loyalty, for visiting our website, sharing our stories, subscribing to us, liking us on Facebook, Tweeting us and, of course, clicking on the donate now button,  Thank you and please share the pride.

When I founded Women’s eNews 15 years ago, I shared a vision with NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund that a well-written and credible news service about women’s issues could change journalism. This was not the product of arrogance that it might seem or even a delusion of grandeur. Something had just grabbed me by the gut back then and changing news coverage of women’s issues, such as poverty, violence and reproductive health, seemed to me to be an absolute necessity and I had no choice, really, but to give it a try, no matter what the odds.

We survived  and paid staff —although not well enough—through the Sept. 11 attacks, the Dotcom bubble;  through the financial crisis and its lingering recession. We juggled bill payments, pleaded with creditors for more time, accrued debt and cut costs in every feasible way.

But make it through we did, while consistently producing prize-winning content and providing all of our readers insight and information on the status of women worldwide. We recently reported on the lack of breast cancer care in China, the push-back against the India’s tolerance of rape; the French Muslim families losing their daughters to ISIS and Detroit’s innovative strategy for boosting breast-feeding rates among African America mothers.

Keeping the Faith

Through the ups and downs, we never lost our faith in the power of journalism with integrity to empower women and girls to take their rightful place. The staff hung in, even when our ability to meet payroll was not clear and in years there were no raises, just longer hours.

Many supporters stuck with us, through this thick and thin. Some donate $10 a month and several in amounts several times higher. Thank you. You are full participants in our mission to distribute the power of information to women and girls.

Something like a miracle happened last summer. We received a grant from the Ford Foundation to hire experts to take a look at our operations: Are we well managed? Is there a pipeline for rising managers? Is our website designed to enhance our readership growth and increase subscribers? Is our board of directors effective? What are new strategies for fund-raising that are effective and do not demand too many resources.

We are midway through the process and it has been an amazing experience. With the training we received, our readership growth is consistent, we have redesigned our management structure; we are working smarter and are looking forward to expanding our board and fund-raising strategies. By early fall, we expect to launch our new website and then we will really go to town with many more innovations.

In the coming year, as we continue to grow and change, while we break stories and train interns to do the same, I will remind myself of Mary Fisher’s words and I hope you will recall them as well:

Each time you report the truth in defense of defenseless women, you give us reason to raise the banner of hope. Each time you write an editorial or publish a story that shines the light on women’s suffering, you relieve the darkness of ignorance and fear. I cannot imagine a more necessary, or more heroic work than yours.

And by the way, please donate now to support relieving the darkness a little bit every day.

BIO: Rita Henley Jensen is founder and editor in chief of Women’s eNews.

Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at editors@womensenews.org. 

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