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Condé Nast Shutters Print Edition of Teen Vogue to Go Full Digital. Here’s Why That’s a Slap In the Face.

Teen Vogue cover featuring Rowan Blanchard and Yara Shahidi

Last night, Twitter was a-buzz (a-Twitter?) with the news that Condé Nast, as a result of myriad cuts across their titles, not to mention a hiring freeze and cutting 80 jobs, would be ending Teen Vogue‘s print edition entirely, while also cutting issue numbers down for other titles. Makes sense, right? After all, aren’t all kids on their phones all day anyway? Here are some things to consider.

The Digital Divide

The common wisdom is that “it’s about time.” That print anything is going the way of the dinosaur, and that the demographic for Teen Vogue, in particular, is all about clicks over physically turning pages. So this isn’t a big deal, right? Well, it might not be a big deal if every teen girl had the same level of access to the digital space. They don’t.

I used to mentor for an organization called WriteGirl in Los Angeles, which empowers underserved teen girls through the written word. It’s an amazing organization that helps girls find their voices, ensures they graduate high school and go to college, no matter their circumstances. What often struck me was that many of the girls were difficult to reach…because they didn’t have cell phones. They just couldn’t afford them. So, if they were working one of two part-time jobs that they often had to help their families out financially, in addition to going to school, and weren’t home to receive a call on a landline, you couldn’t speak with them at all.

It might be difficult to believethough it really shouldn’t be if we think beyond our own noses for a second not everyone can afford the luxury (and it’s still a luxury for a lot of people) of being constantly connected.

Even in 2017 in the United States, there is a huge digital divide between rich and poor, and between white people and people of color. Not every family can afford the monthly Internet bill. Not every kid who gets free Internet at school or at the library can continue learning and growing when they get home. Not every neighborhood or region is covered equally by a network.

So why does this matter re: Teen Vogue?

As many of you know, Teen Vogue has stepped up its game with its reporting. Not only has it gotten more political, but it gives readers a sensitive but no-nonsense approach to social topics like sex and sexuality, or media representation, providing girls (and the women like me, and men as well, who’ve kept up) with a perspective they desperately need. And while many families can’t afford the Internet, girls might be more able to have the funds for four issues of a magazine a year. And if they’re not subscribers, they can come across issues in the wild at school, or doctor’s offices, or at the supermarket.

Ending the print edition of a magazine like this is kinda like saying: Sure, political activism and the empowerment of teen girls are important…as long as we’re not encouraging the “unwashed masses” too much. Which leads me to…

The Print Runs Condé Nast Isn’t Cutting

As it states on Condé Nast’s website:

“Attracting more than 120 million consumers across its industry-leading print, digital and video brands, the company’s portfolio includes some of the most iconic titles in media: Vogue, Vanity Fair, Glamour, Brides, Self, GQ, GQ Style, The New Yorker, Condé Nast Traveler, Allure, Architectural Digest, Bon Appétit, Epicurious, Wired, W, Golf Digest, Golf World, Teen Vogue, Ars Technica, The Scene, Pitchfork, Backchannel and them.”

That’s a lot of magazines. You might even notice that there are TWO golf magazines and several high-fashion magazines. Oh, and Architectural Digest, which “Everyday AD inspires millions of affluent readers to redesign and refresh their lives.” [Emphasis mine] And then there’s Condé Nast Traveler which I’ve picked up from time to time, precisely because I sometimes enjoy escaping by looking at trips and travel options I could never in a million years afford. But make no mistake, I know I’m not their intended demographic.

Many of their titles, which have much more than four issues out a year, are for affluent readers. And yet, rather than cut those options, they’re cutting the options of an underserved readership. According to Women’s Wear Daily, “GQ, Glamour, Allure and Architectural Digest will go from 12 issues to 11; Bon Appétit will go from 11 issues to 10, and W and Condé Nast Traveler will now have eight issues, down from 10.”

So, these other titles are getting cut one or two issues while Teen Vogue, which has only become more popular in the last year and only had four issues a year, to begin with, gets its print run cut entirely? It’s very clear where Condé Nast’s priorities are not: with young, female voices, with middle-class or low-income readers, or with people of color.

Covers Still Matter

Going further with the issue of not caring about lower-income folks, young women, or people of color, it’s important to note that Teen Vogue‘s print Editor-In-Chief, Elaine Welteroth, is a black woman who was single-handedly responsible for Teen Vogue‘s current editorial direction. Love the fact that the magazine has gotten even smarter and more political, not to mention inclusive? You have Welteroth to thank.

That “inclusive” part is especially important. Like the tweet above implies, magazine covers are important. It’s very easy to dismiss that kind of thing as “frivolous” (as it often is to dismiss anything having to do with feminine things or things women like), but it’s because most magazines cater to a singular beauty standard for women and girls. That is why having a magazine that is attempting to broaden that standard is so important.

Not only that, but print editions of magazines are curated experiences that require a reader to engage with, or at least flip through, content and images they might not have otherwise. In a purely digital landscape, you click on what you want, which I’m sure for many is the entire draw. Everyone likes to be in charge of their own content destiny.

But as we continue to live in a world of sociopolitical bubbles that are becoming more and more impermeable by the day, that complete control over what one consumes might not be the healthiest thing.

Digital Means Writers, Particularly Female Writers of Color, Get Screwed

As reported by WWD, “The New York-based publisher, which has instilled a hiring freeze, will slash about 80 jobs, equal to a decrease of about 2.5 percent of its 3,000-person workforce. Budgets across departments are also expected to get a haircut, with the worst-performing divisions and magazines getting cuts of up to 20 percent.”

The move to digital isn’t just about providing the target demographic “what it wants.” It’s about saving money and cutting corners. It’s about expecting fewer writers to churn out content for cheap. It’s about hiring freelancers rather than having paid full-time staff. It’s about hiring freelancers…and then not paying them at all.

Here’s the downside of Teen Vogue‘s success. The magazine has a history of ghosting on and not paying their freelancers. Especially when they’re women of color.

I’m one of them.

I wrote a piece called “Wonder Woman’s Queer Identity, and Why It Matters” for them that was published back in October of 2016. It’s now over a year later, and I have yet to be paid. What’s worse, the editors I was working with have not responded to my emails inquiring about payment, nor has the other freelance writer who recommended me to them.

In addition to not being paid, the entire process of getting this one article published was an ass-backward rigamarole made all the more frustrating by the fact that this was not something I was pitching to them. They were looking for an experienced comics writer to write about Wonder Woman from that perspective, and someone I know who already freelanced for them in the past, recommended me. In other words, they came to me. And yet:

  • They expected me to turn an article over (when I told them I have a full-time gig writing here) in a very short amount of time for $75.
  • I said I wouldn’t do it for that, because in addition to having been paid more for my articles elsewhere, the quick turnaround they wanted deserved more than $75. They agreed to $150. Which still isn’t great for a company owned by Conde-freaking-Nast, but I figured my point was made.
  • They wouldn’t let me identify Wonder Woman as a bisexual icon, but insisted that I exclusively call her queer, because according to their “wellness editor” that would be more “validating” to teen girls. While I often use the word queer and think it’s a great umbrella term, the fact is 1) Diana is canonically identified as bisexual in the comics, and 2) I identify as bisexual, and was trying to inject a personal connection into my piece.
  • After a seemingly endless back and forth on edits, the last email I got from the editor read, “Thanks, Teresa. I still had to swap in two paragraphs that I condensed in my drafts that I sent to you, but it’s being vetted by our wellness editor now.” That was on October 5th, 2016. That was the last I heard from this woman.
  • The article published that same day, and no one ever told me. When I didn’t hear back from the editor, I assumed that the “wellness editor” (because using the word “bisexual” is a wellness issue, remember), didn’t approve it, and they nixed the piece. They certainly didn’t reach out to me about coordinating payment of the rate we agreed to, so I assumed it was because there was nothing to pay me for. I only discovered they’d used my piece when Googling my byline in MARCH when looking for another piece I’d written.

That’s when I reached out to the editor again, as well as the writer who recommended me about payment, and I’ve heard nothing.

The move to becoming digital-only means people lose jobs, writers are disrespected, and those who are employed get royally screwed over. Meaning that Teen Vogue, this publication that’s become a voice of reason in the darkness, supporting progressive causes and educating an underserved demographic about topics that matter isn’t practicing what it preaches. It’s marketing equality and a progressive agenda while underpaying/not paying primarily female freelance writers of color.

So yes, we still have Teen Vogue digitally. I’m grateful that the title will still exist, and that teen girls will still have some kind of a voice in the media landscape. I just wish it wasn’t coming from a publication that has become increasingly hypocritical.

(image: Teen Vogue)

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