The first point Holt makes is one that we made as well: Judges were choosing among nominees provided by the magazines themselves. This doesn't mean the judges are excused from accountability here, but that the trouble goes deeper than a panel of ASME judges, who are not, in fact, all men—nearly half were women. Further, the ASME committee tried to prevent this gender divide in some form: Holt told Jeffery and Bauerlain, "I think readers are more likely to conclude that a bunch of middle-aged white dudes are in cahoots to deny women writers their due. You know how unlikely that is, given the way the judging is organized, and you know that ASME has done everything short of telling judges not to just nominate the big boys so that women's magazines, smaller magazines, magazines outside New York can get some props." Holt also acknowledged that there are problems beyond gender in terms of magazine journalism—ethnicity and a range of classes are not represented equally as well, and said, "I agree that the byline gap in the National Magazine Awards is indicative of a larger problem that deserves to be discussed." This doesn't mean, he argued, that we should knock women who write for, edit, or read service and lifestyle mags.
The Mother Jones editors responded, we think accurately, of the situation, "The problem originates not with any bias in the judging, but with too few women getting assignments for the types of pieces that fall into those categories. Perhaps it is compounded by too few deserving pieces penned by women being put forward by ASME member pubs. More broadly, women are often pigeonholed into certain kinds of assignments, and they pigeonhole themselves." But, "why is it that (most) men's magazines consider ambitious reporting and storytelling to be essential to their brands and women's magazines don't? Every woman we've ever met—including all the smart and wonderful women's magazine editors we've met through ASME—wishes it were otherwise."
Holt says the judges are judging what exists, not what we wish existed (a fair point). This gets at what this wrirter sees as a kind of apparent dumbing down in the magazine industry in general (Holt says audiences are too big, and gives the example of a theater showing The Hunger Games rather than an indie film like, say, Bully: It's how they're going to make money, is the subtext). Meaning, we suppose, that magazines are trying to please all, generally, with more mainstream work, as opposed to pleasing a few immensely with a higher quality and/or more challenging product—you see this across many industries. Beyond that, Holt says, investigative reporting and long-form features are rare in most magazines, whether they're read by men or women. This is a sad fact beyond gender, beyond the ASMEs, and we'll extrapolate: Can audiences help what they want to buy and read, and can magazine editors help wanting to give their readers what they think will sell magazines? Well, yes and no: Tastemakers are, after all, supposed to make tastes, not simply dole out what's expected, or what they think is—and certainly not to pander, as some women's (and men's!) magazines do, not that those are the ones getting the ASME nods.