With the rise of Trump, magazines like Teen Vogue have been praised for having a demographic of young girls while providing scathing political criticism. Only, teens actually have very little to do with the production of conglomerate-owned magazines. At 16 years old, Evelyn Atieno was fed up with content for teens not written by teens, so she launched Affinity Magazine, a social justice-focused website and print magazine written and run entirely by teens.
Since its creation in 2013, Affinity has moved far beyond anyone's expectations, with over 400 writers, millions of pageviews, more than 50,000 Twitter follows, and no advertisers. Now a 19-year-old college student in Maryland, Atieno spoke with Broadly about what it's like to run a magazine while studying, her plans for Affinity's future as she enters her twenties, and what it's like to compete with bigger and more powerful publications.
Broadly: Why did you start Affinity, what made you want to start this magazine?
Evelyn: My mom used to subscribe me to a lot of teen magazines but I didn't really "read" them. I spent a couple of months in Kenya and during that time—because I was bored and in a foreign country—I would read through the magazines and realized they weren't really written by teens, which I thought about for a while but didn't do anything about. I was 16 and Trayvon Martin was in the news so people were really opening their eyes to racial injustice. To me, when everything happened, it really opened my eyes and made me interested in social justice. From that, I got more involved in activism and it really sparked my interest in social justice so I decided to start a magazine. I had interesting stories that were a bit more realistic than what you would read in the typical teen magazines. The magazines I was reading focused on one type of teenager, and Affinity shows a wider scope of teens.
I had a lot of spare time so I learned how to use photoshop and design. I learned how to code, from that early knowledge I was able to build the Affinity website and design the website.
Affinity is well established now, do you feel like because people don't know the magazine is created by teens, that you're not allowed to make mistakes?
At first it really hurt. March was the worst month of my life. People found old tweets about Affinity long before it was established, I turned my personal twitter into the Affinity one just because it had more followers. I did not delete the old tweets, and people found the old ones. It became a witch hunt. The old tweets weren't OK, but at the time I was 14, so I didn't understand my words—I'm almost 20 now. People kept sending me a lot of hateful messages and started digging into my life.
Affinity is a positive thing; it's giving teenagers opportunities. And while not everything we publish is what people like, teens are getting to say what they want to say.
Do you see other teen magazines as competitors? Where do you see Affinity fitting in with the realm of teen magazines?
It's not really the same because they're backed by millions of dollars. I used to feel discouraged because I felt like Affinity isn't on the same level. There's no way Affinity can be on the same level, so I try to do what I can with what I have. It works more for me because I pay less attention to them now. I do read their articles and a lot of teen publications right now are plugging into social justice, which is great.
Currently, where is Affinity as far as business affairs go? You mentioned you don't pay your writers.
I hope in the future we can do that because I'm trying to get funding. I'm trying to turn it into a non-profit so we can get grant funding. What I'd like to do is cut down the amount of writers so we can afford to pay everyone. Right now, I have over four hundred writers. Nobody is making money off Affinity magazine right now. Also, when it comes to advertising it can go against my morals, I don't want to advertise something I don't support.
What are things that are important to Affinity as a whole? Do you always want it to be run and written by teens as you get older?
For the future, as I get older, I realize I don't want to do this forever. Right now I'm in college, I'm in my third year.
I plan on overseeing Affinity as far as all the administrative parts go, but right now I'm working on handing it over to another teen to run. We have a senior editor who's a teenager—he's about 16—and he does a great job while I'm busy with school. I want Affinity to continue on for teens, our magazine shows that teens can do all these things without adults. It's really helped a lot of teens get bylines and their name out there. There aren't a lot of publications accepting teen writers and letting them write when they want. It won't be authentic if I'm 25 and still a part of it, though.
How do you feel when there's a lot of praise for magazines like Teen Vogue, a magazine that's not run by teens and not primarily written by teens. Is this something that frustrates you?
I resented the attention publications like Teen Vogue were getting and that people were shocked teens had an interest in social justice. Affinity has been doing this for a while, I just felt like it wasn't authentic if you have a teen publication and teens aren't doing the writing. What's sad though is that those teen publications do pay writers, and I feel like they should be paying teens. It would be good for teenagers to be paid for what they write because teens write a lot of great things. It's sad that people overlook Affinity because we're not as refined as a big teen magazine. But they don't realize that Affinity is a good stepping stone for teen writers to be able to parlay journalism in a career beyond Affinity. They don't realize that for big teen magazines, they're not building much for teenagers when it's 30-year-olds writing for them.
So what would you like to see from teen magazines?
I felt these magazines are pandering. I don't understand why there's a 25-year-old writing about politics for teens. It can be seen as condescending for an adult to have to teach us about politics like we don't know anything, that's what I don't like about teen magazines having older people write these things. Teenagers were paying attention to the presidential debates. We would write articles every week recapping and talking about each candidate views. We would live tweet to make sure teens were tuning in and watch what's going on. I want them to show the world teens can do journalism.