Teen Vogue is ending 2016 on an upswing — a not insignificant achievement considering that, for most of the year, the Condé Nast title was making news for its staff changes and cuts to its print frequency rather than for its content.
But that changed following the election when the glossy began getting noticed for its incisive coverage of President-elect Donald Trump.
“Twenty-sixteen will be remembered for many things, but one of those may be that it was the year that American journalism got a much-needed spine transplant — perhaps too belatedly for election coverage, but nonetheless,” legendary journalist Dan Rather wrote in a Facebook note today. “I have noted on this page that there have been some surprising new sources of serious reporting — such as Teen Vogue — and some of the more legendary journalistic enterprises seem to be hitting their stride.”
Rather, who at 85 is firmly outside of Teen Vogue’s target demographic, became aware of the magazine after an op-ed by writer Lauren Duca went viral earlier this month. “Some might consider Teen Vogue an unlikely source for a detailed examination of ‘Gaslighting’ and Donald Trump…but there you have it…,” Rather posted on social media with a link to Duca’s op-ed.
In what was described as a “scorched-earth op-ed,” Duca argued that, through outright lies and often completely contradictory claims, the president-elect is responsible for undermining democracy and destabilizing the country by “gaslighting,” or creating conditions where the public no longer knows what to believe and instead questions its sanity.
Late last week, Teen Vogue was in the news once again after Duca faced off against Fox News host Tucker Carlson. The topic was Ivanka Trump, but Duca garnered acclaim and attention (as well as, apparently, online abuse) for calling Carlson out on air for belittling her fashion and pop culture-heavy stories for Teen Vogue — a publication the pundit did not appear to hold in high regard.
“A woman can love Ariana Grande and her thigh-high boots and still discuss politics. Those things are not mutually exclusive,” she said, when Carlson quoted the headlines of other stories she had written.
Duca spoke with WWD about her oped-ed, the importance of women’s media and Dan Rather.
WWD: Why did you decide to write the op-ed?
Lauren Duca: I had been thinking a lot about ethically-driven content, who’s getting it right, and who’s getting it wrong, and it seemed irresponsible for me to continue writing up the president-elect’s falsehoods without an impassioned wake-up call, especially when addressing an audience of young women.
WWD: When did you realize your op-ed had gone viral?
L.D.: I was plugged into Twitter like it was a command center as it was taking off, but it was only when I saw Dan Rather share it on Facebook that I realized the extent of it. Although, that’s not based on anything other than Dan Rather being a living legend and me assuming he is not spending a ton of time on social media.
WWD: Why do you think it resonated so much?
L.D.: American politics are so emotional that it feels natural to argue over everything, so much so that it started to feel acceptable to be arguing over what is and isn’t true. Facts are not a partisan issue, and I was hoping to reach beyond ideologies with that reminder. At least in a small way, it seems like that may be what the piece worked to achieve.
WWD: What made it different than op-eds that have been run in other outlets?
L.D.: The placement in Teen Vogue was certainly a factor. It also afforded a level of clarity and accessibility that I think has been missing from even the strongest takedowns of Trump. A lot of writers speak at a pitch that only members of the media can hear, so it was empowering to see this kind of passionate call to action in a style that speaks directly to readers.
WWD: Why do you think people were so surprised to see it in Teen Vogue?
L.D.: We treat young women like they are removed from political context, as if you can’t enjoy Kylie’s Jenner’s Instagram account and be invested in the future of this country. Teen girls have just as much of an investment in political dialogue, and it’s time to stop pretending otherwise.
WWD: Do you think that people underestimate women’s media?
L.D.: People definitely underestimate women’s media. Another good example is Prachi Gupta’s interview with Ivanka Trump for Cosmo earlier this year. There was condescending surprise in the response to that, too, and it shows the way women’s media is treated as “less than.” There is such an urgency in this political moment, and I think we are going to see more and more pieces like this until it’s clear that women’s media is inherently political.