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Trump Essay Signals Shift In Approach For 'Teen Vogue'

Dec 23, 2016
Originally published on December 23, 2016 4:38 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

An online essay went viral this month, the headline - "Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America." And it came from a source that surprised a lot of people, including NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik. Here's David's report on the changes happening at Teen Vogue.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: The author of the piece, Lauren Duca, argues that Trump relies on deception to undermine the truth so that his critics will question their own judgment and their ability to question him. It's a trick called gaslighting. Here's Duca talking to CNN's Don Lemon.

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LAUREN DUCA: We're sort of getting lost in semantics and we're getting lost in these disputes about what is true, which is absurd because we should all be able to agree about what's true and...

FOLKENFLIK: Duca's post has been seen 1.2 million times and inspired coverage from Italy to Malaysia. Confession time - it's not the kind of discussion I expected from Teen Vogue. I said so on Twitter with a link to the story. People responded two different ways. I was re-tweeted thousands of times and I also got a lot of flak from readers and fans who said, what took you so long to notice?

PHILLIP PICARDI: You know, I love saying to people who are surprised by our content, speak to a teenager in your life and you won't be surprised anymore because that really is the foundation of how we approach Teen Vogue now.

FOLKENFLIK: This is Phillip Picardi, Teen Vogue's digital editorial director who greenlit Duca's essay. Teen Vogue is, of course, the offshoot of the famed fashion magazine Vogue created in 2003 by its corporate parent Conde Nast. And yet, I wasn't crazy, Teen Vogue had made a big shift. Elaine Welteroth was promoted in May to become the magazine's new editor.

ELAINE WELTEROTH: I think Teen Vogue did an incredible job in that beauty and fashion space for young women. But I think about a year and a half ago I'd say, we all kind of came around the table and said, we have to mean more to our girls. Why are we here today?

FOLKENFLIK: The need to compete digitally led them to add politics to the mix. Here's how that happened. Picardi had once been an intern at the magazine. He most recently worked at the digital news site Refinery29. In early 2015, Picardi applied for his current job.

PICARDI: In one of my interviews, one of the questions was, how do you grow Teen Vogue from 2 million to 10 million a month? And that was largely the answer.

FOLKENFLIK: Together, Picardi and Welteroth say they found Teen Vogue's readers hungry to engage. I interviewed the two editors in tandem at their offices, which had a view of the Statue of Liberty. They tell me they draw upon their own identities to help shape coverage. Welteroth just turned 30, Picardi's only 25. She's an African-American. He's gay.

PICARDI: There's always something to cover and there's always something to bring the public consciousness to. And that if that matters to reproductive rights, to transgender rights, to LGBTQ equality as a whole, to police brutality and our ongoing struggle with gun violence, you know, we are going to be tireless in how we cover that stuff.

FOLKENFLIK: They're not abandoning their franchise, yet Duca's piece on gaslighting has dislodged Teen Vogue's previously most popular post, titled "How To Apply Glitter Nail Polish The Right Way." And celebrities including the comedian Sarah Silverman and former CBS News anchor Dan Rather retweeted the essay. Elaine Welteroth defines the audience.

WELTEROTH: I think of our readers as young, conscious people. We can't underestimate how far-reaching our content is, especially these days. Phil likes to say that our reader is woke and (laughter) I'd have to agree.

PICARDI: It's a vocab (ph) word.

WELTEROTH: It's a new vocab word that you can use with your teens and I'd agree with him.

FOLKENFLIK: Still, it's been a tough time for magazines. Teen Vogue was slashed last month to four print issues a year. I asked whether Conde Nast was committed to print. Welteroth sidestepped the question, saying the brand had never been stronger. Yet digitally, their new formula has gotten them pretty close to that goal of 10 million distinct readers each month. David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.