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.