By Natasha Slee
As well as my dissertation, a Final Major Project takes up the majority of my final year. As I chose the print pathway of my degree (we study print and broadcast through first year, then specialise in second year), I can produce a magazine, a magazine website, or a portfolio of articles.
I have always known what I wanted to do: a magazine for teenage girls. Since I was 14 and became seriously interested in fashion, music and magazines I have been fascinated by the teenage market.
As a teen, I quickly became bored of Bliss and Sugar, having stopped reading Mizz at 12 (even though these magazines are ‘aimed’ at a much higher age.) I began reading Vogue, feeling very grown up and sophisticated, yet knowing the content wasn’t relevant to me. (The first Vogue I ever bought featured an article by Deborah Orr about the power of the word C**t – it has stayed with me ever since.) Where were the magazines in between? Why was I forced to make this jump from pre-teen innocence, boybands and make up to politics, high fashion and socialites?
I often bought US teen magazines such as teenVOGUE and Nylon, feeling these much relevant to my age group. UK ElleGirl and CosmoGirl were satisfactory equivalents, though their publication was short-lived. (ElleGirl folded before accurate readership statistics could even be calculated.)
What made the teen market so hard to crack? As I’ve survived and left behind the teenage years I’ve come to realise teen magazines need to find a fine balance between aspiration and realism, innocence and maturity, intelligence and escapism. So I’ve taken on quite a challenge!
When proposing and discussing this idea with my tutor they warned me of previous market failures, and questioned whether my magazine would be more commercially viable purely online. Although I understand that everything and everyone must have an online presence now, and that I would have to provide an online element to my magazine anyway, I was reluctant to disregard producing a print magazine. I remembered tearing photos and adverts out of magazines when I was a teen and covering my only space, my bedroom, in fashion editorial and inspiring images. This magic is lost online.
Yet, how do I know if this is still important to teenagers today? I didn’t sign up to Facebook until I was 18, now any 14 year old can access that, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and a whole world of online. Music has changed, and how we access fashion. Even mundane changes such as starting GCSE’s at 14 instead of 15 can dramatically alter a teen.
In order to gain an insight into teen girls, their interests and concerns, I conducted the first of many focus groups this week at my old school Budehaven, in Cornwall. I chose to start here for two reasons, one being that it was much easier to access and gain permission as the staff already knew and trusted me. However, I wanted to understand how these young rural girls accessed their magazines, whether their isolation from cities meant they were less interested in fashion art and culture, and whether they relied more on the internet for their information.
Excitingly, and fortunately, it quickly became apparent that the girls (I conducted hour long focus groups first with five Year 10’s, and then six Year 11’s), much preferred print magazine to online. Although they used Facebook, and even more so Twitter, this was for communication. They didn’t want to spend all their time online, and liked the physicality of a magazine, and the ability to share it with sisters and friends. They placed great importance on posters and interesting images that they decorated their rooms with. (Some things about teens never change!)
I could write all evening about the things I discovered in these focus groups, however here is a much more manageable list:
There is an enormous difference in attitude, beliefs and confidence of a 14 year old compared to a 15 year old. Some of the 14 y/o girls I spoke to had only just stopped reading the Beano, while the 15 y/o girls dismissed Mizz as “for 10 year olds.”
- All the girls I spoke to were very aware of the dangers of alcohol and drugs, however they were still curious and agreed they’d want to learn more about the experience as well as the dangers.
- They were wary of the internet, claiming they would not Google something they were concerned about as the answer might be wrong.
- They hated adverts in magazines!
- Sport is much more popular among teen girls now than it was for my generation, and is something they’d like to see more in magazines.
- They still love boybands.
Some of the answers and opinions surprised me, while others I recognized from my experience. These focus groups underlined that for this project to succeed, I must consult with my reader every step of the way.