On Saturday morning, Teen Vogue published an op-ed by Lauren Duca titled “Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America.” The tone and message of the piece, which compared the ways in which the president-elect talks about his record to the ways abusive spouses psychologically manipulate their partners, struck a notable chord with readers on social media, garnering almost 30,000 retweets from Teen Vogue’s account, and getting shared by personalities from Patton Oswalt to Dan Rather. Many people tweeting the story did so with an incredulous tone, seeming surprised that a teen-oriented magazine was publishing incisive political coverage rather than makeup tutorials or One Direction interviews.
Did not expect this exegesis of gaslighting and its relationship to current day politics from Teen Vogue https://t.co/cwNhZ6wvJH— David Folkenflik (@davidfolkenflik) December 10, 2016
But the tone of Duca’s piece was representative of a larger shift Teen Vogue has made over the last year. In May, 29-year-old Elaine Welteroth took over as editor from Amy Astley, who helped found the magazine in 2003. Welteroth, the digital editorial director Phillip Picardi, and the creative director Marie Suter have moved the magazine more aggressively into covering politics, feminism, identity, and activism. Together, the three have shepherded a range of timely, newsy stories, including an interview exploring what it’s like to be a Muslim woman facing a Trump presidency, a list of reasons why Mike Pence’s record on women’s rights and LGBTQ rights should trouble readers, and a video in which two Native American teenagers from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe discuss the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.
The pivot in editorial strategy has drawn praise on social media, with some writers commenting that Teen Vogue is doing a better job of covering important stories in 2016 than legacy news publications. But the move is also an intelligent one from a business perspective. Teenagers who’ve grown up on the internet are as likely to be informed about social issues as their parents are, and just as eager to read and share stories that reflect their concerns about the world. While some casual observers might seem surprised that a teen fashion magazine is focused on racism and sexism rather than on “hairstyles and celebrity gossip,” their assumptions dismiss how attentive young readers are to politics—an interest Teen Vogue is astutely capitalizing on.