Former editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue visits MU to give a lecture

Welteroth talked about her time in both black and mainstream media.
Elaine Welteroth, a former editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue, discusses her life and career as a journalist in Jesse Auditorium on Nov. 1, 2019. Welteroth emphasized the challenges faced by women of color in the media industry and the hurdles she has personally experienced. Photo by Photographer Natalie Radt

Elaine Welteroth, the former editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue, paid a visit to MU on Friday, Nov. 1 to speak to students about her life and career in media. Students gathered in Jesse Auditorium to hear Welteroth impart her wisdom and life lessons.

Welteroth began her work in black media through Ebony magazine. She managed to land an interview with Harriette Cole, former editor-in-chief of the magazine, and the two connected over a 45 minute conversation meant to last just 15 minutes. She left her dream internship at Essence magazine to work as Cole’s assistant and eventually ascended to the position of beauty and style editor.

“What if I gave up? What if I wasn’t relentless enough?” Welteroth said while addressing her persistence. “There’s a universe that is better than anything you could dream up, but you have to do your work first.”

Welteroth talked at length about her time in black media and the challenges she faced there. According to the former editor, she and her coworkers became familiar with working harder, longer and with fewer resources only to generate less revenue than more mainstream and less diverse companies. Mainstream companies would not promote their work or issues prevalent to their audience.

“Working in black media epitomizes discrimination in America,” she said.

Welteroth said that black media gave her unique experiences, like working on shoots with former First Lady Michelle Obama and Serena Williams, the professional tennis player. She believes that the work, although difficult, was important. She added that black media is the only outlet where many young children can see themselves represented.

Welteroth is most known for her role as the youngest Condé Nast editor and the second African American to hold the title.

She described the difficulty of being pigeonholed into black media and navigating an office where she was in the minority.

“I had a really hard time crossing over [from black media],” she said. “It was hard, once I was on the other side, to find my voice.”

Welteroth worked to turn Teen Vogue into a platform where politics and pop culture blurred. She found that it accurately portrayed the conversations many teenagers were having on social media platforms that were never picked up by mainstream media, like Tumblr.

“It felt like our responsibility to create a platform [about] how intersectional this generation is,” she said.

Through her work, Teen Vogue transformed into a more socially aware platform, which encouraged its readers to become engaged in politics.

But Welteroth does not stand alone; she gives credit for her success to the many female role models that presented themselves in her life including Cole, Ava DuVernay and many of her mentees. She highlighted the importance of female friendship as a driving factor for success.

Welteroth continued her success after leaving Teen Vogue in 2018; she has a published memoir, “More Than Enough”, and is now a judge on “Project Runway”.

When answering questions from the audience, the editor reassured students of their own ability and prowess.

“Success is about a marathon, not a sprint,” she said. “This is the most liberating time to be a creator.”

Edited by Ben Scott | bscott@themaneater.com

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