Seventeen Editor: ‘I’m Not Going To Lie — Online Is A Threat’


‘Did someone say her parents were out of town?’

The first YPulse “teen media mashup” on Wednesday evening, a panel discussion featuring teen magazine editors, authors, and teen branding experts looked a lot like a high school party at first. Groups at the downstairs bar of Bowery bar Manahatta broke along gender lines, with clusters of all guys and all girls slurping down drinks and laughing raucously (hello, high school!). Others lolled on the couches lining the room to flip through the various teen-related printed matter stationed on multiple low tables — perfect for putting your Converse up and perusing the manga titles that a young adult librarian hailing from Hackensack assured us she couldn’t keep on the shelves. With few exceptions, no one in the room appeared a day over 35. Until they started talking about the business of reaching teens.

anastasia2.jpgThe event was organized by Anastasia Goodstein (left), whose blog covers Generation Y from a media and marketing angle. Panelists included: Christopher Gonzalez, executive editor of upcoming Condé Nast Web-only teen property Flip (who, despite his site’s title surfing in the media sea’s flotsam and jetsam for some time already, wouldn’t confirm or deny its title); Joanna Saltz, executive style editor of newly ‘Toosless Seventeen; Web editor Anne Sachs; former ElleGirl editor and young adult author Melissa Walker; Kara Jesella and Marisa Meltzer, co-authors of upcoming teen mag-obsessed tome How Sassy Changed My Life [who, full disclosure, cited this writer in their book]; Twist editor-in-chief Betsy Fast; Nick Palazzo, co-founder and co-CEO of high school sports magazine Stack; and Matt Britton, Mr. Youth chief of brand development. The night’s topic, overall: Whither teen media?

Consensus was, it seemed, that online properties for teens had to make strong showings in user-generated content and social networking to stay viable. In keeping with teens’ needs to personalize everything “from their clothing to their bedrooms,” according to Gonzalez, content for teens had to be — at least in ElleGirl‘s case — “very mixy-matchy,” said Sachs.

To throw out another unecessary Borat-ism, “niche is nice” was the takeaway from Stack‘s Palazzo, whose high school sports rag not only seems like one of the few outlets reaching a broad swath of teen boys (notorious non-readers of general-interest titles that they are, though plenty have tried) but is doing so with a deliberately niche angle that at all costs, according to the co-founder, “should be unique.” It’s also in marketing cahoots with Nike, which also doesn’t hurt when chasing adolescent males.

Jesella and Meltzer spoke to the pre-Internet connectedness fostered by Sassy with its cult readership, and equally cultish staff — “the first teen magazine that made celebrities out of its editors,” according to Jesella, a practice that in the glossy mag world now seems more norm-er than norm (see Zinczenko-ization’ and its referents).

Twist chief Fast copped to the fact that her mag’s numbers fell “when In Touch became so big and Us Weekly was revamped,” but registered no fear of teens’ constant Internet use, saying “online is a ginormous editorial tool for us,” letting Twistreaders connect more personally with the editors while giving them a platform to add their own voices through forums and more.

Branding expert Britton’s asserted that teen print magazines’ main problem was their lead time, and the fact that they “have to target readers monolithically” by succeeding across entire age groups, rather than by teens’ more specific interests. But, he said, “the Internet is the way they’re going to get around it.”

ElleGirl vet Walker candidly described her fallen monthly’s relationship with magazine mama Elle as “not a helping-hand relationship,” saying that she and her colleagues at the teen mag often “felt like a renegade team,” since they were projecting a niche voice while trying to succeed as a publication for a non-specific mass teen audience.

In blunter terms than those of her co-panelists, Seventeen‘s Saltz laid her angle out: “I’m not going to lie — online is a threat to us.” Concern, perhaps, over the increasing use of MySpace as confessional of choice, rather than the old-fashioned letter to the editor?