Ladies Who Lunch Do It Over The Internet

Lesley Stahl talking to Joan Ganz Cooney as Joni Evans and Joan Juliet Buck listen in. CBS

This story was written by CBSNews.com's Rick Borutta

A different kind of power lunch is taking place.

Women of means, with their own careers and opinions, are finding that expressing themselves on the Internet offers the kind of freedom that their accomplished positions in television, news, books and magazines have not afforded them heretofore.

A handful of New York's brightest women sat down recently at The Four Seasons restaurant to discuss this new venture - posting their table-talk on the Web.

"We were looking to do something new together," said Joni Evans, CEO of wowOwow.com, a Web site that features opinions and stories unlike most of what can be found on the Internet. The site boasts women who regularly contribute on topics that rarely have anything to do with their day jobs. One can find them under the banner of their site, a feature affectionately known as "the chorus line."

"We decided to form a … group that would talk about everything that interested us from the color of hair to the state of the world," Evans said. She had been publisher at both Simon and Schuster and Random House, and is betting wowOwow.com's visitors will be interested in this wide range of subjects. "The fastest growing group on the Web are women, especially women over 40," she says.

On a visit to wowOwow.com one can find anything from Whoopi Goldberg questioning all the various taxes on one's phone bill to diaries from Ashley Judd about Rwanda.

The Web site was launched in March of 2008 and has seen an exponential rise in unique visits to the site ever since. Evans says that first time visitors to the site are spending as much as 11 minutes over as many as 14 pages at a time. As word gets out about the site, links from other sites are driving thousands of visitors to wowOwow.com, which will soon enjoy partnerships with Yahoo Shine, MSN, The Huffington Post and Fox News.

"Being in broadcast television I have kind of yearned to get onto the Web, become part of the Web and learn the Web." said 60 Minutes' correspondent Lesley Stahl. "And that's what I'm doing."

Stahl noted major operating differences between television and the Internet. When Arianna Huffington first approached Stahl about taking content for The Huffington Post, her reaction was incredulous. "We should have thanked her," says Stahl, "Now we want her to take our stuff."

"It is writing. It is expressing yourself and you can have silly opinions or profound opinions and nothing's at stake," said Joan Ganz Cooney who co-founded "Sesame Street." "No one's going to kill you for expressing an unpopular opinion. But you'll get immense reaction from viewers. Are they called viewers, Joni?"

"I think of them as readers, but viewers is also correct," replied Evans.

"Some of their commentary is something we're all learning from," said Stahl.

Judith Martin, "Miss Manners," who lives in Washington, D.C., called in on conference call. "I spread my opinions right, left and sideways and I'm not used to being talked back to."

The contributors enjoy when their visitors not only respond to their articles but also debate amongst themselves with atypical intelligence and thought. One of the most popular features of wowOwow.com is the "Question Of The Day." Recently visitors were asked what advice they would have for Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain. Some questions will generate more than 100,000 visitors to the site in a day. But what's missing are the rude and irrelevant comments one finds on other sites.

"There is a freedom in Web sites that some of the other Web sites use just for everybody to get very snarky and mean and trashy," said Joan Juliet Buck, who has held various positions at Vogue magazine and still writes for the publication. "WowOwow has set a kind of standard and our readers are rising to the standard and taking us above it. … It's astonishing. It is a community."

"Sometimes they completely forget about us and go on [having] their own conversations that are like eavesdropping into the lives of others," said Joni Evans.

"The Internet is a woman's vehicle," said Stahl, "Women began to come to the Internet because of their children … they use it for a wider range of things and pretty soon women, because they are seeing this trend are going to become more tech savvy than men."

"I think it's wonderful that the first stenographers and secretaries were women," Buck said. "This is all keyboard stuff ... it does not involve hurling something, hitting something, smashing something, it has to do with dexterity of finger and of mind that's very feminine."

Martin summed up wowOwow.com like this, "In a society that thinks that youth has all the wisdom and all the cleverness, it's kind of nice to see what people our age have stored away that's useful to know."

By Rick Borutta
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