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How Seventeen helps teens engage in social activism

On March 24, Seventeen magazine rolled out an initiative to bring 30 New York City teen activists to the #MarchForOurLives in Washington, D.C. The event, which was created and led by students, saw tens of thousands of people, including students, march down Pennsylvania Avenue to condemn gun violence and mass shootings in schools and call for increased safety regulations. (There were also over 800 'sibling' marches held in cities around the world.)

Seventeen magazine chartered a bus to take students to the march to give teens an opportunity to participate in the movement, who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity. The bus was a physical extension of the brand, and a continuation of Seventeen's commitment to covering the aftermath of the shooting in Parkland, Florida.

 

 

They also published content around the march, including an essay and an Instagram takeover by Marjory Stoneman Douglas junior class president Jaclyn Corin, to give followers a sneak peek of the event. Seventeen also hosted a GIF photo booth on Pennsylvania Avenue to encourage participants to tell why they're marching and for every GIF posted from the booth, Hearst donated US$1 to Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit organisation which advocates for gun control.

We spoke to Seventeen executive editor Joey Bartolomeo and Seventeen digital director Kristin Koch about the bus, about the event, and about why they believe that this is the biggest moment for teens since Vietnam.

 

Why the initiative? This goes beyond encouraging young people to vote, to be involved in the political system or volunteering for a local politician. Why was it important to a) give the reader more? and b) show the brand's support for and belief in the #marchforourlives?

JOEY BARTOLOMEO: After the news came out of Parkland, and we saw the student leaders start to make noise, I thought, “What can we do in the magazine to support these students and students across the country?” It started as an editorial initiative, but then we were having internal conversation about how cool it would be to have a march. Then we heard the news that there was going to be a march, organised by the students of Parkland.

Immediately, our discussion turned to, "We need a bus." Seventeen is a platform for teen voices, so bringing girls—and their voices—down to D.C. was an obvious move. We feel very fortunate that Hearst agreed and provided the funding we needed. Teens are being killed in schools, and in their neighborhoods, and they’re afraid. We think of Seventeen as our readers’ big sister, so as their big sisters, we wanted to let them know that we’re here for them, we support their efforts, and we want them to be safe. 

 

Joey Bartolomeo ()

Joey Bartolomeo

 

KRISTIN KOCH: Young people have always been socially conscious and engaged in activism – but now more than ever. As a platform for teens, it’s important for us to be talking to them about the causes that are important to them, and helping to amplify their voices. Our audience really wants to see a brand that stands for something, so it’s been important for us to be clear about what we stand for and to champion those causes alongside our followers.

Social media has been a powerful tool for young people to leverage to effect change and impact the world, and as a digital brand, we are hyper-focused on using our platforms every day to talk to teens about the issues that matter, do good and create change. We have been championing LGBTQ issues through partnerships with GLAAD and our digital brand extension HERE by Seventeen. We’ve been helping teens understand their bodies and protect their reproductive rights through video series in partnership with Planned Parenthood, and service-driven articles on the site. We’ve had teens take over our channels as they organise around causes like gender equality, #MeToo and Black Lives Matter. We’ve created special Snapchat Discover editions around these issues, and, most recently, we brought activism to life with our bus and video booth activations at March for Our Lives.

Every day, many teens worry about gun violence as they go to school. Their lives are at stake, and Seventeen is committed to fighting alongside them to end gun violence. It’s important to me that we’re using our platform and resources to back these teens, who are just asking to be able to learn in peace without the threat of violence. These teens are changing the world, they are making this world a safer, more inclusive and more just place, and we are going to do everything we can to support them.

Kristin Koch ()

Kristin Koch

 

Is this initiative to bring the brand in front of Seventeen's teenage audience?

JOEY BARTOLOMEO: Seventeen has been a part of teens’ lives for 74 years, so teens (and their moms and grandmothers) know we’re here. The thing is, we couldn’t not be part of this moment—it’s the biggest moment for teens in decades. We wouldn’t be serving our readers if we weren’t helping amplify their voices. Obviously, if our coverage helps us attract more readers and builds brand awareness, then that’s great for us. Showing teens that we’re a resource they can turn to, that we get them—and showing the world that we get teens—is what it’s all about.

KRISTIN KOCH: This initiative is really something we feel passionately about. It’s become a regular occurrence for us to cover school shootings on the website. Enough is enough. Our readers feel like they’re being targeted. They have to go to school, and yet, many feel it’s not safe to do so anymore. 

As a brand for teens, we couldn’t sit by and continue to cover this and not do something. We are in a position to help support the teens fighting to end gun violence, to amplify their voices, and to hold lawmakers accountable until something changes, and that’s exactly what we’ll be doing. 

 

Please explain why the bus is a physical extension of the Seventeen brand.

KRISTIN KOCH: Activism is a huge focus for Seventeen. Beyond our digital platforms, we’re also focused on creating more physical extensions of the brand to bring our causes and content to life in ways that allow teens to physically engage with Seventeen and meet each other. We have done activations around National Body Confidence Day, where we hosted meet-ups with teens across the country to promote body positivity. We have the Fashion Experience, a teen tour for students interested in fashion and publishing. And we’ve participated in marches and protests like the Women’s March. Considering that the March for Our Lives was a teen-led initiative and gun violence is something impacting teens daily, we felt it was really important to be marching alongside survivors and activists, and to bring young activists and teens impacted by gun violence to the march in D.C. so they could let their voices be heard.

 

 

Are Seventeen readers woke? 

JOEY BARTOLOMEO: I think Gen Z as a whole is woke—if you’re not, you’re really the exception to the rule. Our readers are socially aware and politically conscious. Concepts like activism and inclusivity are ingrained in them. 

KRISTIN KOCH: Teens have always been socially active and have always cared about social justice and making the world a better place. And it’s also always been a hallmark of our editorial strategy. In some ways, the world is just waking up to how smart, engaged and powerful teens are and giving them the credit they deserve. And it’s about time! Seventeen has always believed in the power of teens and we have always been committed to highlighting the amazing things teens are doing. 

 

Is Seventeen woke?

JOEY BARTOLOMEO: I hope our readers think so! We follow their lead and report on the issues that are important to them. And we’re also aware of how this generation is very conscious of diversity and inclusivity, and we’re sensitive to the fact that so many teens don’t identify as heterosexual, or cisgender. If you looked at issues of Seventeen from several years ago, you’d see a lot of references to “boyfriends” and getting a guy, and lots of “he.” Now, unless we’re talking about a specific guy, we keep things more gender neutral. You’ll see “your crush” or “they.” 

KRISTIN KOCH: Teens today are more aware of social issues and more open to fighting for them than ever before. And as a brand, Seventeen has always known that teens are passionate about speaking out for what they believe in, and we have always been there to give them the information they need to know on the topics that impact their lives so they can make informed decisions.

 

Why is this the biggest moment in decades for teens? What about this movement makes it different than the Vietnam protests in the 1960s?

JOEY BARTOLOMEO: Bieber-mania and things like that aside, I can’t think of another recent moment where teens were at the forefront of such a large movement. There was nothing like this in the ‘80s, ‘90s, or ‘00s, where teens stepped up and spoke out and led the charge in such a major way. I think you have to go back to the Vietnam-era, when 18-year-olds were being drafted, to find an issue that really impacted young people in such a direct way, and that motivated them to speak out in protest.

What’s different now? For one thing, the teens have social media to help get their messages out and to help them connect with each other. You’re not just joining forces with kids in your homeroom or from your town, you’re instantly connecting with teens—and adults—from across the country and around the world. 

KRISTIN KOCH: Teens aren’t waiting until they can vote to make change. They’re fed up and they’re not waiting for adults to do something about it. They’re standing up to a powerful lobby, the NRA, because the people elected to represent them, refuse to. Teens are using the tools they have at their disposal—mainly social media—to organise and show up in numbers. This isn’t something they had in the ‘60s. It was their ability to use social media to organise that allowed for marches across the world to take place and to see thousands of people across the country protest gun violence and demand a change to our laws to end gun violence. Teens now have the tools to campaign for change and to hold our lawmakers accountable even before they can vote. But this generation is going to be voting soon, and you’d better believe that they will be voting on this issue.

 

How are teens using social media to make their voices heard on gun violence in the US?

KRISTIN KOCH: Immediately following the Parkland shooting, survivors took to Twitter and Instagram to demand change. You immediately saw the faces and voices of those young people demanding lawmakers to do better, calling out lawmakers for not making changes, and using their voices and their anger to demand that this not happen again. In the past, we’ve seen politicians and the NRA say this isn’t the time for politics, it’s the time for healing and to send thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families. But these teens began speaking out on social media before that could happen to say they were sick of thoughts and prayers, and wanted action. It was incredibly powerful and unprecedented to see the voices and faces of the survivors shape the conversation around the shooting and turn it from mourning to a call for an end to violence.

Seventeen wanted to show our support for the teens marching and to help amplify their voices and make sure even those not on stage at the march could use their voices to make real change. We also wanted to give young people across the country a way to join in on the movement and participate even if there wasn’t a march near them. We set up a video booth at the march in D.C., where participants could record a short video explaining why they were marching. For every video created and shared to social media, Hearst, Seventeen’s parent company, donated a $1 to Everytown to support their efforts to end gun violence. We wanted to show our audience that their voices and their activism mattered in a tangible way.

 

 

 

How does this physical extension of the Seventeen brand stay true to the core values of the Seventeen brand? You help teen girls navigate adolescence, helping them become strong/self-assured young women. Was being aware of politics and the world around them part of that mix, too? Would you add 'sophisticated, socially-conscious, woke' to that, now?

JOEY BARTOLOMEO: Political awareness—both national and international—has always been in the mix of what Seventeen covers. When the magazine first debuted in the ‘40s, there were stories about how girls could help support the soldiers fighting in WWII. In every issue, we have a “17 Voices” page, where we highlight a girl using her voice to make change. Teens today are smart, sophisticated, and socially-conscious. And it’s cool to care. 

KRISTIN KOCH: Like Joey mentions, our audience is smart, sophisticated, socially-conscious, ambitious and powerful. They, like adults, care about many things. We’ve always know this, but we’re excited the world is waking up to that. Teens are changing the world, and this generation is going to ensure the world is a more just, diverse, inclusive, and safe place.

 

How was the march? Did you attend? If so, what was the atmosphere like? 

JOEY BARTOLOMEO: I was in D.C. and it was amazing. I lost count of how many times I was on the verge of tears, and not just because of the speakers on stage. There was a real sense of unity among the crowd, which was filled with everyone from infants to elderly people in wheelchairs. Seeing the girls we brought down to Washington leading chants, talking to other people they saw, speaking to journalists, and bonding with each other was really inspiring. They are ready to make change and I believe they have the power to do it. These are our future leaders. 

 

What were the girls' responses/reactions? Did they enjoy? Did they learn anything? After attending this particular march, would they be more likely to continue their political activism?

JOEY BARTOLOMEO: They loved it. Some of them had never been to D.C. before, so it was very cool to see them see the Capitol and the Washington Monument in person. And we also had a screening of RBG, the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary on the bus, which we thought would be a great way to inspire them. There was applause when it ended. All of the girls who came are already politically active, but I know this energised them even more. 

KRISTIN KOCH: Yes, and yes. One of the organisations that participated wrote to us after the march to say:

As a survivor of gun violence, you made my day! And, more importantly, you aided the effort in offering a real-life opportunity to all of us, and especially our youth, our students, to participate in our civic responsibility to voice our concerns as the people of The USA.

 

What was the social media response like? 

KRISTIN KOCH: We have seen an overwhelming amount of support for this movement, and the coverage and activations we’ve done around it. We received incredible feedback across social media from participants and our followers. Our audience engaged with our content around the march, shared their views on gun law reform and supported the movement on social media.

We also saw some of our highest engagement and lowest exit rates (meaning our followers stayed for the entire story) on the Instagram takeovers leading up to the March.

We had Jaclyn Corin, one of the March organisers and Parkland survivors, do a takeover the day before the march to take us behind the scenes of the final organisation and prep. Jaclyn also wrote an essay for the site that we featured on Snapchat about why she and other survivors organised March for Our Lives.

 

 

Our takeover the day of the march was with one of the students on the bus with us from New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. Our audience loved being able to be a part of the action. This was really a student-led initiative and we wanted to tell the story of the march from their perspective.

This comment really captures the kind of response we got from our audience: “So grateful for the support—our voices will be heard!”

We also received amazing support from our partners, colleagues, and fellow Hearst brands. Delish made snack packs for the students on the bus, our friends at Instagram and Snapchat helped support our initiatives, and Cava, Hint, Milano cookies, Pop Chips, Kind Snacks, Zazzle, and more brands partnered with us to feed our teens.

 

Will there be additional features on this, to come?

JOEY BARTOLOMEO: The march took place just as we were shipping our May/June issue, but we were able to crash a story into it when we got back from D.C. The story features highlights from the march as well as first-person stories from several girls about why the gun reform issue is so important to them. We’ll certainly stay on top of what’s happening in the future. 

In addition to the feature on the march in our May/June issue, we were also able to put together a special issue to commemorate the March for Our Lives and continue to shine a light on the teens using their voices to bring attention to the issue. Available on newsstands everywhere on Thursday, April 5, the Seventeen special includes original content and curated photos to help teens, their parents, and our wider community of readers remember this watershed moment.

Features inside the special issue will include a full recap of the march, excerpts from the speeches, what this movement means for teens and their futures, a round-up of the best signs shown at rallies all over the country, profiles of, and essays written by, Parkland student leaders and speakers from all over the country, a history of past D.C. rallies that made people stand up and take notice of human rights, and a how-to of ways that teens can let their voices be heard, even if they can’t vote. Hearst will also be making a donation to Everytown for Gun Safety in conjunction with the launch.

 

March for our Lives Seventeen ()

 

 

KRISTIN KOCH: Of course. We created programming on the site before, during and after the March, and we plan to continue this conversation until laws are changed and students can feel safe going to school again. We featured a series of essays from gun violence survivors and participants in the school walkouts on March 14; and service stories on getting involved in the fight to end gun violence, staying safe, and everything you needed to know about the March for Our Lives.

We are also really proud of the story we published giving voice to the teens who are impacted by gun violence every day, and whose stories aren’t covered by mainstream media in the same way as these mass shootings.

 

Seventeen gun violence article ()

 

After the Parkland shooting, we did an Instagram Stories feature sharing step-by-step instructions on how our audiences can call their representatives. The Story included a sample call, with a Seventeen.com editor actually calling her representative to show how it’s done and make the process seem less scary and intimidating. We received an incredible response as teens messaged us to say that it inspired them to call their representatives.

Seventeen has always been smart and thoughtful, and covered a variety of topics, including politics and social justice—and we will continue to do that. The way we speak to teens and the platforms where we reach them has changed, but what’s so exciting is that we’re continuing to connect with our readers about the topics that are important to them whether that’s on Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, the site or the magazine.

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