Nelly Bly We Need You Now!


Early this May Google celebrated what would have been the 151st birthday of the groundbreaking female journalist Nelly Bly with a beautiful, inspiring, whimsical animated video. The image above is from that video (the actual video is embedded at the end of this post). Bly became nationally famous for posing as someone with mental health challenges to expose abuse in mental hospitals, and world famous for beating Jules Verne's fictional "Around the World in 80 Days" in just 72.

Imagine if a woman like Nelly Bly was at the head of the New York or Los Angeles Times right now? I'm taking nothing away from the work of the talented professional women writers and journalists around the country, but imagine how things might be different if there were more women in charge of top media organizations.

I think there's an interesting correlation between the low percentage of women riding bikes in this country (The League of American Bicyclist's Women Bike Program states in 2009 it was 24%) and the low number of women who are the top decision makers in the media. According to a recent article by Hannah Groch-Begley in Media Matters called What Has and Hasn't Changed for Women in the Media Over the Last 20 Years:

  • There are no major papers in the U.S. lead by a woman
  • White men now host all of the influential political talks shows on Sunday morning - and the guests they host aren't that diverse either even when the topic is one that should definitely be hearing from diverse voices

The article is addressing the fact that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the Beijing World Conference on Women, at which representatives from 189 countries committed to a blueprint for new global policy empowering women, known as the Declaration and Platform for Action. The Platform identified "12 critical areas of concern" for women worldwide, including the media. As you've seen not doing so well.

Think about it. If there were more women at the top of the food chain in the media world there would be more news that appealed to and inspired women. Whether it was coverage of women in the sport of cycling or riding bikes for better health, cost savings and fun. Same goes for women choosing walking and taking public transit. So guess what this means? It means we've got to work even harder to get stories in the press about women riding bikes, walking and taking public transit for a diverse array of reasons.

At right the United Nation's infographic on the status of women in the media around the world. Click on the image to be taken to the full piece.

This year we had better news coverage than ever about Bike Month, and Bike to Work Day, and the new second annual Bike to Shop Day (bravo to everyone who worked so hard to make these media placements happen) with coverage online nationally in CNN, NPR, Time, USA Today,, Wired and more, plus wonderful local coverage and regional coverage.

But we haven't yet cracked many full length feature stories in the sticky, inspiring national lifestyle magazines. I'm talking about magazines like Better Homes & Gardens (7,639,661 paid subscribers in 2014 - the highest circulation of any women's magazine in the U.S.), Oprah's O Magazine (2,385,199 - one of the most truly diverse lifestyle magazines in the ages, races and backgrounds of women covered), and the one with the highest number of subscribers AARP Magazine with 22, 837,736 subscribers.

To create true culture shift we need to be getting into these types of magazines regularly. Not once, or occasionally. Think of how yoga has gone from being exotic to every day. We need the concept of stories about women biking, walking and taking public transit to become top of mind to the features editors of magazines whether they're thinking about stories on health and well-being, female leaders, urban renewal, travel, inspiration to change your life and more.

So Let's Talk About How We Can Collaborate to Make This Happen

Right now I'm working on story pitches for December/Jan/Feb 2016. Yep. Why am I thinking six months ahead? Because the major print magazines work about six months ahead on their coverage. How can bikes fit into the holiday season? The perfect gift item for her - how to buy a bike she'll actually ride! How can biking, walking and taking transit fit into the New Year? Resolutions to save money, improve my health and how about sleep better?

Women need to see themselves reflected in stories that will illustrate to them how biking, walking and taking transit can make their lives more enjoyable, have more time with their kids, and help them better connect to their community. In order to truly inspire new audiences of women to bike and walk and consider taking transit as viable options we need to move the media from focusing on snapshots only about product to full stories about real women's lives. To do this we're going to need to understand what women and what story angles work for what media outlets.

Let's take the bike as an example. Right now the hot urban bikes like Linus Bike (out of Venice California) and Martone Cyclery (out of both New York and L.A.) and  get into the front of the "must have" sections of all kinds of magazines. Bravo for them. The links I've shared take you directly to the media room of each. They excel at getting their product into the media (and notice how few of these magazines are about bikes or even athletics). But now we need to also have stories about all kinds of women riding all these marvelous bikes in all kinds of lifestyle magazines - health, travel, fashion and more.

So I'm refreshing my memory of top magazines to understand what standard sections in each issue that might work for a story idea plus I'm studying magazine editorial calendars so I know what their full length features will be focused on.

Here's More Magazine focused at mid 30's and up with 750,000 monthly print subscribers

The sections that might work for a biking, walking or public transit story are:

  • The annual More contest
  • Afficionado - Travel
  • Voices - Newsmakers or Second Acts
  • More is now featuring climate challenges with #moremagclimate (let's support them to really get this going)
  • Health findings
  • Here's their media kit for 2015:
  • What I see of interest in November of interest is "finding meaningful work" and for their December/January issue - their annual gift guide.

There are three women off the top of my head among our collaborative group who are perfect for story pitches to More. The first is Kellie Morris here in Long Beach. Kellie is a wife, mother and grandmother and her second act is taking her passion for bicycling and making it a new career. In 2013 Kellie became the final woman to receive a scholarship from us to become a bicycling instructor certified by the League of American Bicyclists. She has become a very popular teacher for both group and private classes. She's also a gearhead and just loves every aspect of bikes and bike products. I believe her bike collection is now up to six including the hippest 60's folding bike you've ever seen. Kellie writes our "We All Ride Bike" blogs and podcasts. Kellie above by Lisa Beth Anderson.

Second is Janet Lafleur of the "One Woman. Many Bicycles" blog. Janet lives in Mountain View California and is the founder of #BiketoShop Day in collaboration with the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. Janet is also a member of the California Bicycle Coalition's board and has been a wonderful adviser and collaborator for us. Janet has been a passionate mountain biker but now spends more time sharing the adventures and opportunities of life by bike. Her blog is so popular because she shares her real world experience of life by bike - including her fun Friday night dates by bike with her husband Dick. She knows just what kind of bikes and shops help women new to riding find the perfect, comfortable fit. At above left Janet was featured in a special "commuters" image collection and story on bike commuters in the Bay area in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The third is Cynthia Rose the Co-Founder and Director of Santa Monica Spoke, an affiliate organization of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and a board member of the California Bicycle Coalition. Also a certified bicycle education instructor through the League of American Bicycling Cynthia has been a proactive force in Santa Monica's impressive move towards bicycle-friendliness. The city boasts a 356% increase in bicycling between 2000 and 2012. She is a strong and committed advocate for improved pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and Complete Streets Policies at the local, state and national levels. Living a nearly car-free lifestyle she loves to be in her community garden where she grows organic heirloom vegetable and fruit or off on a bicycle adventure or just enjoying the everyday ride.

Of course there are all kinds of women who would be great to pitch stories to More about in regards to biking, walking and taking transit. Remember we're not just going for one big story, we're going for repeated stories. We're going for becoming "top of mind awareness" so editors are asking us for recommendations. That's how we create culture shift.

Let's look at Glamour focused on Gen Xer's, Millennials and younger:

  • A print audience of 2,318,521 subscribers
  • 8.5 million monthly website unique visitors
  • Age focus 18-49
  • Their December 2015 issue will feature the 25th anniversary of their "Women on the Year" awards.
  • Find their editorial calendar here:

I haven't bought a Glamour magazine in about a year so I need to go take a look at their sections this weekend. Join me next week as I delve into who would be perfect to pitch to Glamour magazine and online fashion/lifestyle sites like Refinery 29.

You may not be ready to start thinking so far ahead for your own organization or company's media pitches - especially not as national bike month winds down - but as you're reading this you might think *I know who would be perfect for Melissa to pitch.* Great! Send me a note to

Now watch about Nelly!

Melissa Balmer is the Media Director for the California Bicycle Coalition and Director if the Women on Bikes California/ initiative. She is a writer, media relations specialist and active living advocate. Her mission is to share the power of artistry and personally engaging storytelling to inspire. Her passion is to honor those who've done groundbreaking work and to recruit fresh voices from diverse multi-generational perspectives to share their stories in traditional and new media platforms to engage new audiences in active living.

Melissa has placed the Pedal Love initiative, its creative team, events and CalBike in local, regional, statewide and national news outlets such as the Associated Press, American Bicyclist, Bicycling Magazine, KABC News, KPCC's Airtalk, Los Angeles Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Momentum Magazine, the Sacramento Bee, the San Francisco Chronicle and more. Tell her you'd like to collaborate She loves riding her Linus and that both walking and taking public transit allow her more time to read.