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More Sassy

An outtake from our Book Keeping feature with How Sassy Changed My Life authors Marisa Meltzer and Kara Jesella.
What do you think of the state of publishing for teenagers today?
Jesella: People always ask, “Could Sassy exist today?” and it’s so complicated because…

Meltzer: …would it even be a magazine if it existed today?

Jesella: The publishing climate has changed so much since
Sassy was out — not that it was always doing great in the climate it was in — but things changed, and it became harder to come out with a new magazine.

Meltzer: There are so many fewer launches, and so many fewer teen launches.

Jesella: I mean, there are some really good things that seemed to have happened which are that feminism is a little bit implicit in teen magazines in a way that it wasn’t before Sassy, which is not to say that any teen magazine would put the word “feminism” on the cover, and Sassy did.

Meltzer: Or use the word “patriarchy,” in all seriousness.

Jesella: Right [citing a Sassy coverline], “Working our nerves: Patriarchy.” I don’t think it’s going to happen.

Meltzer: But, at the same time, feminism is implicit, I think individuality, either in like musical taste or fashion, or just cultural taste in general, I think is a little more implicit in teen magazines. They are all a little bit cooler.

R: Are there any individual outlets or editors or writers who publish for teens who you think are getting it right?
Jesella: This is such a strange time, because so many places have folded, that it’s almost like there are even any layers right now.

Meltzer: I think Anastasia from YPulse does a great job of aggregating teen media, because these days it’s not just magazines. You’re talking about downloads and video games. I think I’m a person who knows a lot about teens, and yet she discusses video games and Second Life and extreme sports and all these things, and I sort of don’t really know what it’s about.

Jesella: I’m really interested in her book. It will be interesting to see where things go because the one thing that seems really different now is that… some of the ways that Sassy seems most apparent is on the Web, but the thing that was so great about Sassy was that it did have this kind of big sister. It wasn’t just teens talking to each other, it was people who were older giving you advice.

Meltzer: I think all of the emphasis on user-generated content is great, but it definitely overlooks that older-sister, advice-giver tone that was really helpful to my younger years, and which, when done well, is really great.

R: It seems as if that’s almost happening in reverse these days. You’ve got editors like Ann Shoket, or former editors, in Atoosa Rubenstein’s case, it’s almost as if they are trying to be more like the girls themselves, instead of assuming that slightly older, or more worldly vantage point, yet still on the level of the girls — it’s a departure from Sassy, so what do you think of it?
Meltzer: With Sassy, the editors were very young, so it
wasn’t that hard for them to tune into their teen years. What was Karen [Catchpole, an early Sassy editor], like 20?

Jesella: Yeah, and I don’t think they were faking it. It wasn’t like they’d had 15 years of working as teen media of editors trying to be something they weren’t.

Meltzer: And, that’s why it didn’t come across as phony. And the other thing is when you’re in your late twenties or early thirties, it’s not like your tastes are so shifted that you’re like “What did I ever see in Pretty In Pink? or Liz Phair or something like that.” I think it’s okay to trust your editors and their opinions… but at that same time, things are changing so much in terms of technology and stuff that I can see why they are trying to tune into the headspace of teens…

Jesella: But, that’s what’s so interesting. There are two different approaches: There’s the approach of being an editor who needs to tune into the headspace of XYZ magazine you work for. Or, there’s being an editor at a magazine where you’re super-into that magazine and super close to that product, and close to the people who are reading that. Then, you don’t have to try.

R: People seem to feel that way about ElleGirl a lot.
Jesella: I have heard that. Ellegirl definitely wanted in a lot of ways so be the successor to Sassy. I mean, Christina [Kelly, ElleGirl's last editor-in-chief, and one of Sassy best-known editors] was there.

R: What do you make of the fact that she’s doing her thing and not able to stay in that role at multiple publications [Kelly was ousted from YM, prior to joining ElleGirl]?
Jesella: I think there would have been a teen magazine shakeout no matter what. I really do. I think that there were too many of them.

Meltzer: Yeah, what were there, six? There were so many.

Jesella: You just have to have a much higher circulation now, in order for everybody to continue to support that publication.

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Steve Shepard Gets His Teaching On

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Cathie Black In Control

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There’s No Sugary Fluff In Candy Crowley’s Life

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MB Q&A: Toby Young, The Sound of No Hands Clapping

Professional persona non grata Toby Young tells Rebecca Fox why some members of the media will call off their vendettas long before his wife does, and reveals which of his writings should really have his enemies running scared:

mediabistro: You’ve worked within multiple industries: theater, journalism, books and filmmaking: What’s the relative bridge-burning quotient in each? Which industry (or individuals within it) forgives quicker, which forgets, and which will never stop punishing you for prior offenses?

Toby Young
The general rule is that success absolves you of any sin. In my first book, for instance, I was pretty heretical about Conde Nast, but I got away with it because the book did quite well. Once it got onto the New York Times bestseller list, Si Newhouse had to call off his assassins. If it had done badly, by contrast, I think I would have disappeared without a trace. (This may be a total fantasy on my part. It could be that Si is completely unaware of the book to this day.)
There is an exception to this rule: actors. Woe betide the writer who dares to criticize an actor—and the better known the writer, the more heinous the foul. For the past five years, I’ve been the drama critic of the Spectator (Britain’s equivalent of the New Yorker) and I don’t think a single actor I’ve given a bad notice to has forgiven me. They have the memory of elephants.
This reminds me of an anecdote related by the Oscar-winning screenwriter Frederic Raphael. It dates back to the 1970s when he was writing plays for British television: “An actor came up to me and asked whether I thought that the hydrogen bomb really represented a threat to the future of the human race. I answered with a lot of on the one hand, and then again on the other. I had given him, he said, a lot to think about. Another actor sidled up to me and said, “May I say something? When an actor asks whether you think that the human race is threatened by atomic weapons, the required answer is, ‘I think you’re giving an absolutely wonderful performance.’”

Read on here. Also, you can read an excerpt of Toby’s book here.

Q&A with Sebastian Junger

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mediabistro: The style of your writing in A Death in Belmont is part history lesson, part magazine feature, part novel. Was there a conscious decision on your part to write it like that?
Junger: Yes and no. A good paragraph is a good paragraph. You have to go back and forth. Too much drama is shallow, and too much history can be boring. Powerful journalistic writing simply uses facts in the same dramatic way that novelists use fiction. Dramatic structure is dramatic structure, and whether you build it out of verified facts or things that you think of, it’s the same. The plot can follow the rise and fall of dramatic action in nonfiction, too
If you want people to read your journalism, you have to give some thought to how you’re going to assemble all these facts. But, you can assemble them artfully and compellingly, and that’s the job of someone who wants the public to read his work.
Want to hear more? Junger’s speaking on an MB Panel on Wednesday night in New York.

MB Q&A: Gil Schwartz/Stanley Bing

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Mediabistro: What does writing under a pen name do for you that writing under your own name doesn’t?
Schwartz/Bing: Well, for a long while I was hidden completely, and it was really terrific. When I was a kid, I always loved stuff about guys with secret identities. Zorro in particular. Big nerd by day. Guy in a silky black cape at night, flying through windows, saving people, being sort of dangerous and legendary. This was as close as I could get to that. I was younger, and didn’t understand at that time how splendid senior management generally is. I settled scores. I reported on people’s weirdness without endangering them or betraying them in any way. Nobody knew who I was. People used to send me my own column with a little note at the top saying, “I think you’ll enjoy this. It sounds like you.” I’d send it back to them with another buckslip on top that said, “Stop bothering me with this crap.”

More here.