Mikki Morrissette turned 23 on April 16, 1985, which she notes with amusement also was the date the first issue of a biweekly newspaper called Minnesota Women's Press was delivered. After attending the University of Minnesota, where she worked for the Minnesota Daily, Morrissette spent 18 years in New York working in magazine and new media publishing before returning home to write for that very newspaper-turned-monthly magazine. In 2017, Morrissette bought Minnesota Women's Press (MWP) from then co-publishers Norma Smith Olson and Kathy Magnuson. As MWP celebrates its 35th anniversary, Morrissette reflects on its bold reporting, financial challenges and exciting plans for 2021.
Q: Congrats on 35 years, which makes MWP among the longest continuously run feminist publication in the U.S. To what do you attribute its longevity?
A: The mission of original co-publishers Glenda Martin and Mollie Hoben was and continues to be to showcase women as experts whose place is in the news. Women's voices do tend to be overlooked in mainstream media, although that is less true now. Advertisers have stuck with us, some for more than 30 years. While our small staff had to deal with pay cuts this year, we are all intact, working with vision and energy to address pressing issues. From the beginning, our reporting and first-person narratives have examined gender-based violence, justice reform, political representation.
Q: You noted it was painful having to pick from thousands of stories for your 162-page commemorative anniversary book, "35 Years of Minnesota Women." How did you do it?
A: When we started digging into dozens of boxes of archived print issues, it was apparent that curating and condensing would be an extensive process. A few of us leafed through all the pages and noted stories that stood out. In the end, 550 stories made it into a database and only a fraction made it into this book. But much of our content will become part of our legacy of stories at womenspress.com.
Q: Did you hear of any pushback in the magazine's early years?
A: There were people who talked about how Ms. Magazine was starting to suffer due to decreased ad revenue — that "smacking of feminism" in the mid-'80s was a bad idea; that you shouldn't even use "women" in the title because it would narrow the readership. And people told the MWP launch team they'd run out of story ideas. To [co-publisher] Mollie's credit, she was tenacious about the fact that the publication should go forward and should do so as a for-profit. Women's voices have value.
Q: How has the pandemic impacted your financial health?
A: Our publication is free, so advertising provided 80% of our revenue; we lost about one-third of that in 2020. We generated new digital sponsorship options and are looking into starting a membership campaign. We have incredibly loyal readers who, through book sales and donations, are helping us get through the hard times.
Q: Decades ago, MWP highlighted several political issues, including abortion rights, passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, government funded day care and comparable pay. You could make the same list today. Frustrating?
A: It's disheartening to see how long women have been confronting the same deeply rooted issues, including lack of affordable housing and racial injustice. At the same time, I do see a surge of vitality in women leadership going into 2021. Everybody sees the hope of that.
Q: So, Dr. Jill Biden. Were you surprised by the challenge to her hard-fought academic credential?
A: With 2020 in particular, I'm not surprised by what pops up from the holes. This was our year of reckoning, for people to recognize how many among us still have archaic notions. We can call it patriarchal but it's not solely male-driven. Traveling around our state and other states, I can say that this was not an isolated moment. The hopeful thing is that, similar to the MeToo movement and Black Lives Matter, people are very vocal about why this is not right and are shocked that it still gets said. That is a change from a few decades ago.
Q: What do your kids say about your work?
A: My sarcastic 21-year-old daughter is a peace studies and psychology major who was home for several protests. She thinks I'm not woke enough. She also thinks I'm too old to use the word "woke." My 16-year-old son joined his sister as an election judge this year. We've always had good conversations about what's wrong with things but also about what we can do about it.
Q: How did 2020 change the stories you wanted/needed to tell?
A: As a white journalist, it's not my story to tell but I have a responsibility, so what is it? I've done a tremendous amount of networking over the past few years with women, particularly women of color. We're about to launch a series of seven regular online columnists to write about issues, including public health and growing diversity in greater Minnesota.
Q: How important are men as allies?
A: Very. We are still trying to figure out how to do an issue about rape culture and men's voices. We talk about how much pride we have in women-led initiatives and I do believe in that, but men who are feminists recognize that we don't have a healthy society. It takes absolutely everybody in solidarity.