This past May, I was lucky enough to be invited to an event at the New York Times. The event was “Get With The Times,” featuring a live conversation between Jessica Bennett, the New York Times’ Gender Editor and Elaine Welteroth, the former Editor in Chief of Teen Vogue. I was amazed from the minute I arrived to the minute I left the building and I want to share some of the key takeaways and lessons I learned from the event.
When I first walked into the building, my jaw dropped, because everything looked so cool and high-tech. There were screens on the walls, balloons and posters (including the one below) and other college girls everywhere!
Before the conversation started, everyone got to hang out for a bit and enjoy snacks, drinks and even a guacamole bar. It was super fun to see so many different girls coming together for something we are all passionate about. Then, we were finally cued into the room where the conversation would take place and I was thrilled when we were referred to as a “studio audience.”
I was beyond excited when Elaine Welteroth and Jessica Bennett walked in. This felt like a dream… I was really in the same room as two of my idols! I got such personable, friendly vibes as soon as they started talking, and it just kept getting better from there.
The conversation started with Jessica Bennett asking Elaine Welteroth about her path to success in journalism and she explained how important it is to be persistent. She said “I effectively stalked an editor of a magazine.”
After many calls and mailings, this lead to that magazine editor eventually offering Elaine a job. Elaine explained how she channeled her desire to meet the editor into determination and this lead to a great mentorship. This taught me that I should not give up on my goals, even if nothing happens at first; I must reach out and keep pushing until I get my foot in the door I aspire to open.
As Elaine continued to discuss her journey through the media industry, she brought up another great point, as she said, “I was the girl who just said yes to everything.”
She explained that she worked for Ebony, even though it was not the most popular magazine at the time. Additionally, she worked for Glamour, Teen Vogue and now works on various on and off-screen projects.
Her words really stuck with me. Eight months ago, I was dead-set on the idea of my first job after college being in strictly the fashion section of a mainstream publication. Although I still think that would be awesome, I feel like I am open to trying anything after listening to Elaine’s story.
Maybe I’ll start off working for a lifestyle blog. Maybe I’ll write movie reviews for a newspaper. Or maybe I’ll work my way up at a small digital startup. The possibilities are endless. But after hearing what Elaine had to say, I know I’m down to try anything in journalism.
Diversity, culture and what it is like to stand out were big ideas discussed throughout the night. Elaine explained that it is crucial to be authentic and be sure that the writers actually represent and care about what they are writing.
She said when she was first starting, it was not the common choice to put a woman of color on a magazine cover, but that’s exactly what she chose to do, and she broke ground in the process. She knew it was the right choice because it made young girls who looked like her feel inspired and excited.
Elaine said, “As journalists, and as storytellers, you have the power to set the cultural agenda.” Hearing this made me feel so proud and excited to be a writer. If in the future I can say that something I wrote made a young girl feel happier, more ambitious about her future, or even just a little bit more confident when looking in the mirror, then that’s all I’ll need to consider myself a success.
One last (of many) noteworthy points they covered was the pressures of social media. One viewer asked Elaine’s opinion regarding social media’s importance. Elaine’s response was “I think of it as an elective, like in college. You have electives that can serve your major, but it’s not your major.”
Elaine emphasized you should have fun with it, and if it makes you feel more stressed than anything, then it’s probably not worth it. I like social media because it’s fun and good for marketing, but I hate that it makes people sad sometimes. Even Elaine Welteroth thinks that you shouldn’t let your number of likes rule your life!
I left the building grinning wider than I ever had in my entire life. I learned so much advice that pertains to any girl in any industry. Jessica Bennett said, “You can form a girl gang in any job that you’re in,” and that is so true.
If we want men to want to help us, we need to start by helping each other. Us girls need to mentor and support each other! The event affirmed my passion for feminism, journalism and style, and I will cherish what I learned that night for the rest of my life.