Since its establishment in 2013, Affinity Magazine, an online publication written by teenagers for teenagers has evolved beyond expectations, with over 400 writers, millions of pageviews, more than 50,000 Twitter follows, and no advertisers. Evelyn Atieno, the founder, shares what’s it’s like to run a magazine while studying and compete with powerhouse publications.

Evelyn Atieno is a 19-year-old college student in Maryland, who found a magazine 3 years ago, hence when she was only 16 years old. Just as many of teenagers her age her mom used to subscribe her to a lot of teen magazines but she didn’t really “read” them. She spent a couple of months in Kenya and during that time – because of boredom in a foreign country – she would read through the magazines and realized that most of the articles weren’t really relevant. They weren’t really written by teens. But that didn’t bother her that much, not until Trayvon Martin was in the news and people were really opening their eyes to racial injustice. For Atieno, herself, what happened was life-changing and made her more interested in social injustice. From that time forward, she got more involved in activism and it sparked her interest enough to found a magazine. She had a lot of spare time so she learned how to use photoshop and design. She also learned how to code. And with those skill she was able to build Affinity website and design it herself. She had stories that were more relevant and realistic that wersen’t typically found in teen magazines. The magazine she was reading focused on one-dimensional type of teenager, and she knew that there is a wider scope of teens.

“A recurring issue is adults want to shelter kids, but you can not. We have access to the internet and that allows access to a lot of content that is mature. Kids in this decade are dealing with a lot of issues from eating disorders, sexual identity, and racial discrimination. You’re doing a disservice by not educating them” says Atieno.

Adults sometimes have this common notion that teens have no interest in anything besides gossip and celebrities. Well that might be half true, although Atieno does dabble in celebrity news, she also immerse herself in social justice and politics.

She firmly believes that while race is a sensitive topic and so is sexual identity, but by not addressing it, adults are doing more harm. She have had teen readers thank her for writing articles about transgender teens like themselves since there is a lack of transgender representation on TV. Transgender teens are committing suicide because they do not have safe spaces and feel alone- she makes it her goal to represent them fairly and realistically.

Teenagers have a lot of real life issues that are being overlooked. When she created Affinity, Atieno decided that she would talk about everything, without any censorship, no matter how controversial. Affinity have covered many genders from female to non-binary and even sexualities from bisexuality to asexuality. They have also covered white privilege and white terrorism. And stories from the United States to Egypt.

“We are the voice of teens who feel silenced by society. We ARE interested in politics, and we ARE interested in social justice.” says Atieno.

More teens are interested in social justice than parents would like to believe. Nowadays there are teens like Malala Yousafzai defending the right for girls to have an education and fourteen year old Rowan Blanchard speaking unapologetically, so why not cater to that demographic? That’s exactly what she decided to do.

 

From Digital to Print

A few months after the initial creation of the magazine, she began publishing monthly print issues covering topics like “tips for freshman” and “graduating high school.”

Today, Evelyn Atieno’s “Affinity Magazine” is a website where content is uploaded daily. In just one year, over one million people have viewed the website (currently averaging 120,000 views a month), and the verified Twitter account has nearly 33,000 followers.

What makes Affinity very unique is the fact that it utilizes social media. All articles are posted on social media and at times get around 400 retweets. The magazine ask questions on Twitter and interact with readers, at times even telling them happy birthday. It is a community. It is a safe space for teenagers to send in their articles about being illegal aliens, non-binary, agender, and discussing why they need feminism.

“Affinity is more than a magazine, it’s a movement. It’s different—teenagers [are] writing about serious issues, like what’s [currently] happening in Syria, but condensing in a way where everyone can understand,” said Atieno.

Since launching, Atieno have educated hundreds and thousands of teens. Atieno group chats with 177 teenage writers and 4-5 editors—the acceptance rate is 34 percent for all new applicants. While at most magazines where writers contribute, they might not even know the other writers. Affinity’s writers talk everyday, collaborate and help each other with articles. Writers are responsible for one article a week, but are constantly reminded, “School comes first. Mental health comes first.”

In order to gain followers and verification on Twitter, Atieno conducted research. She said, “People will say they’re going to start something, and they don’t do research. You have to figure out your demographic. Who are you going to sell to? How are you going to appeal to them?”

She took to Twitter to find those people. “I followed [teenagers] who [tweeted about] social justice. [I know] people are into ratios: Not following as many people [in comparison to followers]. Why? If you want people to notice what you do, you should follow them so they can see,” said Atieno.

Twitter has a verification form you can fill out. Atieno said, “I signed up, but didn’t think about it much. Two weeks later “Affinity” was verified.

People take us seriously. The verification helps [because] Affinity is the underdog in a world full of so many teenage magazines. [People say], “Since they’re 16, I don’t believe them,” but we know what we’re talking about.”

According to Atieno, “Affinity Magazine” has been cited on Mic.com, “New York Times,” “Slate Magazine” and “Huffington Post” as a credible source. Atieno’s social media success continues to grow, much like her confidence as a college student and writer as she uses her “Affinity Magazine” experience to pursue life-altering opportunities. She said, “If an article I write gets a lot of buzz on Twitter, I submit it to bigger publications.”

Affinity is now read in 171 countries and all 50 states. Atieno hopes that Affnity is the first, and hopefully not the last politics and social justice magazine for teenagers.

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