When asked about her biggest wins of 2017, Jazmine Hughes, associate editor of New York Times Magazine, listed a couple of expected accomplishments: her cover-story for the publication and the Letters of Recommendation column that she edits. But Hughes also mentioned something less typical for someone with her title. She had met a woman who had gotten a job through Writers of Color–the database she cofounded to help assigning editors discover more diverse writers. “We both cried,” Hughes says of the meeting.
Hughes has dedicated her career to diverse storytelling—whether she’s writing and editing the stories of others or helping writers of color tell their stories. She joins those on 2018’s 30 Under 30 Media list who have done the same: Some tell the stories; some have created the outlets that host the storytelling; some make the business decisions that allow those platforms to thrive. All are under age 30 as of December 31, 2017 and have never appeared on a previous 30 Under 30 list.
Jacob Tobia and Clint Smith, for example, are two authors who set out to challenge stereotypes and foster a better understanding of gender and race, respectively.
Tobia’s forthcoming memoir Sissy and essays for publications like Time and The Guardian speak both to the gender nonconforming community Tobia is a part of and that community’s generation X and baby boomer parents, for whom Tobia helps demystify the genderqueer divide.
Smith, a doctoral candidate in education at Harvard, has written for platforms like the New Yorker, Atlantic and New Republic. The 2014 National Poetry Slam champion’s full-length poetry collection, Counting Descent, won the 2017 Literary Award for Best Poetry Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award.
“My goal is to use a range of different mediums and genres to complicate our conceptions of history,” he says. “So that we are more fully able to understand what has led us to this moment of such profound racial and social inequality.”
Then there are people like Laila Alawa, Benny Luo and John Traver—all entrepreneurs who have built platforms that help people tell these diverse stories.
Alawa, who grew up Muslim in post-9/11 America, cofounded The Tempest, a site dedicated to elevating voices of women around topics including international policy, human rights and personal identity. Founded less than two years ago, the site has over 1,000 contributors from around the world.
Luo’s NextShark.com targets global Asian youth, with its 13-person staff covering everything from politics to hate crimes to entertainment.
“Growing up as a Chinese-American, I faced several incidences of bullying that were mostly race related,” says Luo, who bootstrapped the company with $3,000 in 2013. “I also saw the lack of Asian representation in mainstream media and aspired to make a difference.” Fast-forward four years, and he has: The site attracts nearly three million viewers each month.
Traver didn’t start a publication, but Frame.io, the business he cofounded, has helped countless creators. Likened to the Slack for video, the collaborative platform boasts media clients including Snapchat, Apple and Disney–as well as $32.2 million in funding–who use Frame.io to share, review and distribute content.
Of course with large audiences and trusted brands, more mainstream outlets are often still responsible for keeping people informed and forming their opinions.
That is why the work of someone like Ben Taub or Phillip Picardi is so important. A staff writer at the New Yorker, Taub’s eye-opening reporting on jihadism, war crimes, battlefield medicine, human trafficking and more has taken him to a rescue ship in the Mediterranean, smugglers’ hideouts in the Sahara desert, trafficking areas of southern Nigeria and the islands of Lake Chad. His work on ISIS was originally funded by his stipend from singing competition The Voice, and for his recent writings on Syria he won The Livingston Award for International Reporting, among other accolades.
Picardi’s audience–teenage girls–is quite different from typical New Yorker readers, but he treats them with the same respect with which Taub treats his. As digital editorial director of Teen Vogue, Picardi introduced the website’s political and wellness coverage, helping to shift the brand away from just fashion and celebrity and towards themes of gender equality and social justice. He was so successful that he took on the same role at Allure, and this year he launched the LGBTQ focused Them, Condé Nast’s first new brand since 2007.
But these stories wouldn’t be possible if money wasn’t made–and people like Jacob Smilovitz are ensuring places like the New York Times are sustainable for years to come. Smilovitz, the publication’s director of M&A and investments, led the charge on the Times’ first acquisition in more than eight years when it purchased the Wirecutter in adeal valued at about $30 million that introduced the affiliate business model to the Times.
But media also has a lighter side, exemplified by the likes of Alexandra Petri, a humor writer and the youngest-ever columnist at the Washington Post, whose satire has gone viral in the age of Trump.
“We live in a surreal, Dali-esque world where time seems to crawl, everyone’s clocks are melting, and all laws are passed by creepy white bone pelvises standing alone in deserts, and I think we need jokes to get through it,” she says.
Cooper Hefner, the son of legendary Hugh, has also become a major player in the entertainment space. He recently worked to keep Playboy relevant by bringing back nudity and featuring the first-ever transgender playmate in the magazine’s centerfold. Business-wise, the glossy, which saw its revenue increase over 39% year-over year, is also staying modern: Early next year it will launch a new digital platform that moves away from banner ads and towards a subscription-based model.
Our list of media’s game-changers was vetted by three industry expert judges, including 30 Under 30 Alum, CNN’s senior media correspondent and host of Reliable Sources, Brian Stelter; Teen Vogue’s editor-in-chief, Elaine Welteroth, and CEO of Vox Media, Jim Bankoff.
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Categories: Money Matters