News & Politics

Here’s What Women Want

Melinda Henneberger's She the People is a hit for the Post.

Hennenberger’s new blog topped the Post’s site in its first month. Photograph by Erik Ueke.

The number of Washington Post blogs has topped 100, which raises a question: Has the Post ever seen a blog it won’t publish?

The New York Times gets by with 62 blogs. The Wall Street Journal publishes 53, the Los Angeles Times 30.

When Post national editor Kevin Merida brought on Melinda Henneberger this winter to write about national affairs from a woman’s perspective, blog number 108 was born. She the People was launched in January with 25 contributors, including 11 from the Post.

It ran into trouble when the initial name, That’s What She Said, turned out to be in use already by two conservative bloggers.

Henneberger says men normally make up the majority of political readership but that as editor of Politics Daily, the now defunct website she developed for AOL, she helped level the field: “I didn’t set out to attract women readers. I hired the best political writers. They attracted women readers.”

Henneberger is more journalist than feminist. Growing up in Mount Carmel, Illinois, she edited the Chestnut Street Chatter in seventh grade and edited the high-school paper. She later cohosted a college radio show at Notre Dame, covered cops for the Dallas Morning News, and wrote for Newsday and the New York Times. She quit her job as Rome correspondent for the Times in 2002 and moved to DC with her two children and her husband, Bill Turque, who signed on as an editor for the Post.

In 2006, Arianna Huffington hired her to form a reporting team for the Huffington Post. Though the two had been friends, the working relationship crashed.

Then Marty Moe, at the time an executive with AOL, asked Henneberger, “Want to run a political site?” Politics Daily was born.

“He tossed me the keys,” she says, “and let me drive away.”

Last February, AOL bought the Huffington Post and Arianna Huffington shuttered Politics Daily without telling her former friend. Then Merida, a onetime Dallas colleague, asked Henneberger to write for the Post. The paper hired her on a contract because its nepotism rules would have prevented her from being an employee along with her husband.

Says Merida: “There is a female audience for politics that I thought we could tap into by offering something fresh, something no other political site has.”

So far, Henneberger’s fare has been light on news and hasn’t delivered much fresh perspective. She did stretch out and defend Rick Santorum against claims he wanted to ban contraception. Veteran local writer Bonnie Goldstein explored Newt Gingrich’s three wives as a window on his soul. Delia Lloyd, reporting from London, explored the moral imperative for British doctors to remove breast implants deemed unsafe.

Many of the blog posts have come off as liberal essays by, for, and about women.

Newsy or not, readers are coming to She the People. The Post tries to keep the number of page views private, but internal communication showed that Henneberger’s blog topped the heap when it debuted in January, even beating out Chris Cillizza’s the Fix and Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog.

This article appears in the February 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.