Malala interviews Elaine Welteroth on finding your voice, social media and advice for future journalists

As a journalist and former editor in chief of Teen Vogue, Elaine Welteroth is used to being the one asking the hard-hitting questions.

But last week when Elaine joined Malala on her recent trip to Brazil, we thought it would be fun to switch gears and have Malala lead the interview.

Turns out Malala wasn’t going to let her off easy. “She’s hard, man! She’s a hard journalist,” Elaine remarked as Malala asked her about finding your voice, navigating social media and advice for young journalists.

While at Teen Vogue, Elaine helped transform the glossy style mag into a socially-conscious soapbox for young girls. As an activist and writer, Elaine continues to give teens a platform to voice their opinions on issues that matter to them. Earlier this year, she hosted a TV special featuring the survivors of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. While in Brazil, Elaine travelled with Malala to meet indigenous and Afro-Brazilian girls and learn about the barriers they face — like discrimination, violence and poverty.

We’re eagerly waiting to see what Elaine will cover next. In the meantime, watch the interview and check out some of our favourite highlights below:

On finding her voice

“When I first got hired at Teen Vogue, I didn’t know this at the time, but I would read in the news later that I was the first black woman to ever have that leadership position. And it was a wake-up call for me. It really helped call into focus the significance of this opportunity. It woke me up and made me realize that it was time for me to stop pretending to blend in, when I didn’t, no matter how hard I tried. And to stop playing by the rules and playing it so safe. You know, women and girls are often socialized to just play it safe and I certainly did that up until that point. But when I had that opportunity, I thought this is my chance to make a difference and to create a magazine that I needed when I was growing up to shape messages that I think the world needs more of, for young girls and for young people.”  

On advice for budding journalists

“Never stop being curious. I would say to that remember there are no shortcuts. You have to study the craft and really hone your writing skills. I think in this day and age with social media and everything, they see instant fame or bloggers or influencers who have amassed huge audiences and maybe haven’t taken a single journalism class. That could happen, but for the majority of students, you have to learn the craft.”

On her time in Brazil with Malala

“It has already been so special to see young girls who look like me, in this far away land that is so beautiful, facing issues that I can both relate to and some that I’ve never had to face in my life. I’ve never met these girls, but I feel so connected to them. I feel so connected to their stories, to their pain, to their joy.”

On how to break into spaces that traditionally exclude women

“It is not easy to be the first, to be the only to do something, but here’s what I would say: No matter how isolated you might feel, how alone you might feel, how alone you might actually be, you are not alone. You stand on the shoulders of generations of women who have come before and have suffered and fought for you to have the opportunity that you have. And you enter every room with your ancestors. And every time you have an opportunity to speak up, you are not just speaking for yourself. You’re speaking for communities of girls who have been underrepresented for far too long. And so you silencing yourself is silencing them.”

On what she learned about Malala

“She loves her high heels. She loves her fancy lip gloss. She also doesn’t really enjoy the art of eating. She’s not really into the whole sit down and dine thing. She’s like, 'It’s time consuming.' That’s what she said… The last thing you would learn about Malala if you were able to be on this trip with us is that she is a magician. She legit has magic tricks up her sleeve.”

On using social media for activism

“I think social media is such an incredible tool for expressing your creativity, expressing your point of view with the world and also connecting with like-minded people. This is the best time to be young and empowered and to have something to say, because you have a platform. You don’t have to wait for a job to come or you don’t need to wait for an opportunity — it’s at your fingertips. You can find your tribe. Find people that support you and that believe in the things you believe in.”


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hannah W. Orenstein is digital manager at Malala Fund. Her favourite ice cream flavour is pistachio.