Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Women’s eNews, NYC
Daughters Ariel Jensen-Vargas, 44, and Shasta Jensen, 40
Proudest accomplishment: Raising money to pay journalists to report on women’s issues.
Biggest obstacle: Keeping pace with new technologies and how our audiences are using them.
Best advice: Ignore the chorus and the arias sung by those who are sure you can’t succeed and shouldn’t even try. Your reply should always be: I fear you are right, and I hope you are wrong. I am going forward.
It’s diffcult to imagine that Rita Henley Jensen, the accomplished and vibrant founder of the influential Women’s eNews, was once a battered woman living on welfare. Henley Jensen, 63, was prescient enough to launch her award winning independent daily e-news service back in 2000. “I was an early adopter,” she says of the Internet. “I was excited to take advantage of this new tool.” Her mission? To tell women’s stories. “I wanted to push through all the noise out there that is so disrespectful of women,” she says. “Women are often invisible, and I wanted to make them visible and heard by every tool available.” Henley Jensen remembers a time that she felt invisible back in the 1970s. She was a welfare mother of two children and battered wife for six years. She was able to create a support group with other welfare mothers. “It doesn’t matter if you find this support at the gym, in a walking group or at your church. Women supporting women is a big source of strength.”
During this period, Henley Jensen learned that no matter how daunting the challenge, “fear can be managed and should not be permitted to set one’s agenda.” Certainly it was fear that was keeping her in a bad marriage. “I spent five and a half years of my six-year marriage trying to get out of it,” she recalls. Then one day a male friend told her he would put her and her kids up at his girlfriend’s house. “I was terrified,” Henley Jensen says of leaving her husband. “I had no money, no education and two kids.” With some breathing room, she was able to get her life back on track. “I felt that if I could get out of that marriage, I could figure anything out.” She went on to earn degrees from both Ohio State University and the prestigious Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. The former senior writer for the National Law Journal and columnist for The New York Times Syndicate also became a prizewinning investigative reporter. So when she got the idea to launch Women’s eNews, Henley Jensen didn’t let fear stop her. “I had never raised a nickel in my life,” she says, “but I felt compelled to do it. I always wanted to tell women’s stories and strongly believed that the dominant media were not doing the job.” She started the site with funding from the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund. After 9/11, when the site was going to be shut down, Henley Jensen decided to continue it independently.
The site now relies on private funding, events, subscriptions and private donations. The stafl includes ten people in addition to Henley Jensen. Her time is now split between doing the work she loves and doting on her four grandkids. She enjoys telling women’s stories to show them what’s possible. Says Henley Jensen: “Women put up with things they don’t need to put up with.”