The New Yorker and Jessica Esch: Crowd Accountability Issue by Issue

I started reading The New Yorker out of a fear that I was losing my ability to focus on long-form writing beyond books. I gulped newspaper and magazine articles to finish them more than digesting them fully. In truth, I feared the loss of my entire attention span. 

photo credit: Jessica Esch

photo credit: Jessica Esch

My 2012 New Year’s resolution was to read The New Yorker, the longest magazine long-form I knew, and one that would not distract me with any bells and whistles, given its text-heavy design. It also helped that trusted friends who read it religiously raved about the quality of its writing.

Turns out my attention span is alive and well. 

I read The New Yorker cover to cover with a black pen. I underline, mark and decorate its margins as a conversation with myself. This also increases my retention. As a sketchnoter, it is one more way I filter the world of ideas I encounter every day. 

Having noticed that many of the Letters to the Editor were from men in 2012, my first official tally looked at those submissions by gender. In 2013, 47 of the 142 letters published were from women (seven could not be found online). I also tracked who illustrated the covers: women drew only nine of the 47 issues in 2013. 

My pleasure reading now had an investigative element. I was hooked. 

In 2014, I became a full-fledged GenderAvenger who tallied up each week’s cartoonists, illustrators, writers and contributors. I watched the gender gap spread like water on a tissue with every issue. 

Women drew three of the 47 covers in 2014. Bruce McCall had double that on his own. Barry Blitt had five. Legendary illustrator and cartoonist Saul Steinberg died in 1999 and graced the cover twice in 2014.

More salt in my burgeoning wound was that each cover by a woman was associated with something stereotypically female. Ana Juan's March 24 cover was a butterfly. Roz Chast covered the Mother's Day issue, and her second cover landed August 4: Venus at the Beach.

The numbers were no better for women cartoonists, who were solely responsible for only 114 of the 733 cartoons published in 2014. Nearly half of those 114 cartoons were drawn by Roz Chast (28) and Barbara Smaller (23). Only two other women were in double digits: Emily Flake (13) and Carolita Johnson (12). 

Not funny.

In 2014, women lost badly in every category I tracked.

The New Yorker    2014 final gender tally,  Jessica Esch

The New Yorker 2014 final gender tally, Jessica Esch

But the numbers only tell part of the story. My closer look at The New Yorker warrants even deeper study. I have theories about which articles result in published letters to the editor from women. I have questions about whether women submit as much material for publication as men. And what of artists and writers of color?

People often ask why I keep reading the magazine. They clearly have never read The New Yorker. I anxiously anticipate each issue. My friends were right: it is that good. 

And I want it to be better. 

I see my The New Yorker Gender Tally as one piece of crowd accountability. I choose to focus on The New Yorker. Tim Hanley gendercrunches DC and Marvel comics. The VIDA Count tallies the gender disparity in major literary publications and book reviews each year. And, of course, there is GenderAvenger.

If each of us focuses on what we love and what we love to read, it all adds up. Even though, like The New Yorker, you might not like the numbers. 


Jessica Esch is an illustrator, sketchnoter and filter for the common good living in Portland, Maine. Follow her on Twitter at @jesch30. Click here to see the latest 2015 The New Yorker Gender Tally. Follow Tim Hanley at @timhanley01.