BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Did you survive your teens thanks to Seventeen magazine? Take delight that wise Chicagoan Joey Bartolomeo is its executive editor, following supercharged assignments at People, Us Weekly, and Entertainment Tonight. The Latin School graduate, also a former coxswain on the Colgate University rowing team, holds her Chicago connections close to her heart.
With Joey at the helm, Seventeen, our beloved big sister of a magazine, couldn’t be in better hands.
“The magazine, which is 73 years old, has always covered the same core topics: fashion, beauty, relationships, school, health, food, college—all of the topics a teen would care about. None of that has changed. Along with that, Seventeen’s mission has also been to empower girls, boost their confidence, and give advice.
“Teens today, however, know a lot more than they did in the past—we can thank the internet for that. Teenage girls are also highly ambitious and really want to be change-makers. They are dealing with social media, which adds another level of challenges to everything.
“I want to make sure the magazine serves the whole girl and reflects every aspect of her life. All the time, I’m thinking how much Seventeen meant to me when I was a reader, and I want the magazine to be just as memorable, helpful, and fun to read.”
Formerly a senior writer at both People and Us Weekly, Joey was known for her celebrity interviews with Taylor Swift and Steven Tyler, and for breaking the news about the separation of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, also co-authoring the book Brad & Jen: The Rise of Hollywood’s Golden Couple. She often appeared during those days on MSNBC, CNN, ABC, and many entertainment shows to discuss the latest celebrity news and to provide commentary on series such as A&E Biography, and VH1’s The Fab Life and A to Z.
“I’ve gotten to travel, interview amazingly talented people, and work with so many smart, cool women. I love telling great stories, which is something I did a lot when I was a senior writer at People. And because I’ve always loved pop culture, working there and at Us Weekly was so much fun.
“I also think my friends—and their friends—particularly liked when I worked at those magazines! People would love to ask me about celebrity gossip. I may be less popular to have around now, but I feel like what I am doing at Seventeen is so important, and I love being able to meet teens and hear about what is going on in their lives. They impress me all the time.”
We talked recently with Joey about her career trajectory and work with teens. We are so grateful for her insight on the mind of a teenager!
You are a very young woman yet you have had an amazing career at several of our country’s leading magazines. How did you get started?
I have covered entertainment, fashion, beauty, and fitness for the past 20 years. The first part of my career was spent at women’s magazines. My initial job after graduation from Colgate in 1995 was as the assistant to the editor-in-chief at Self.
In the fall of 1995, I began working on the prototype to Condé Nast Sports for Women. It was just me and the editor, Lucy Danziger, who became a great mentor and friend. It launched in 1997 and later became Condé Nast Women’s Sports & Fitness. I held several writing positions there and covered beauty. I have also been a senior writer at Allure and was an associate fashion features editor at Harper’s Bazaar.
You wrote so many cover stories at both People and Us, breaking news and celebrity interviews. Do you miss that excitement?
One reason I left the entertainment world to go to Seventeen was that I was focusing always on other people’s lives: writing about who they were marrying, how they were getting into trouble, and all the rest. I wanted to take a step away to focus on my own life and my son, Tully, who is three.
What I am doing at Seventeen feels far more important to me. This is a nice change. We can have a lasting impact on someone, and we have to take our role seriously.
Tell us about today’s teenagers.
When I was their age, I would be on the phone for hours with my Latin School friends, and, of course, now kids are texting all the time, not talking. Social media plays out in many different ways and adds stress and pressure.
Kids have a hard time interacting, even with their own peers, not to mention when they have to do something like a college interview. There is so much pressure, for example, through Snapchat, particularly the fact that you must send a streak daily to a person if you make that agreement. Some kids feel they must react to 100 streaks daily.
Photos also add so much pressure. Young girls often have two Instagram accounts, one private, tailored to their friends, and the other public. Photos are so digitally manipulated that they are seeing photos of seemingly perfect people.
At Seventeen, we write a lot about body acceptance and good mental health. We have teamed up with Instagram with the hashtag ‘PerfectlyMe,’ celebrating who you are and what your body is.
How do you get feedback from teens?
We have a teen tour where we bring girls from New York and now Los Angeles into our office for two weeks. Our first group was 40 girls who got to know all our editors and shared their ideas with each department. These were built-in focus groups, and we have kept in touch with these girls, asking them about their interests and what they would like us to put in the magazine.
What fun it was in April to walk into our cafeteria on Take Our Daughters And Sons To Work day and see a teen in the room with her mom, whom I think is publisher of Town and Country. I walked across the room and asked her to come up to our office and share her ideas. We are delighted with all opportunities to talk with teens.
Do you cover celebrities frequently in Seventeen?
Our magazines are definitely sprinkled with celebrities, usually with small interviews from a fashion or beauty perspective, but we are very careful whom we choose for a cover story or whom we profile. It has to be a positive story where the subject shares words of wisdom, such as how they cope with pressure, keep friendships, and where they get their style.
We want to make sure that no one comes across as perfect. It is not about covering people just because they are super pretty and famous—we want to talk about the whole person, their anxieties as well. No one should think that anyone could be 100 percent perfect.
People have asked us why we do beauty stories. Lots of girls have skin problems, and we try to help, or to work with other body images.
You are a terrific writer. Do you sometimes write for Seventeen?
Last year, I wrote a cover story on the English pop star and songwriter Ellie Goulding, which was great fun and something I hadn’t done in a long time. I help with a rewrite of other stories occasionally now, but I focus mainly on editing.
You must have archives of all those past Seventeens that we loved. Do you ever look back at them?
That’s one of my favorite things to do! We have bound issues, and I am often posting a photo from the past. We hear sometimes from readers who want to see 1950s issues that their grandmothers loved—it is a pleasure to help them.
Throughout your sensational career, your reputation hasn’t changed. You are the best mentor and the most thoughtful person!
It’s really important to be a nice person. Many people think that as they move up in the magazine world, you can be a jerk; that being nice is being too soft. Being caring and supportive truly is important.
We have a great environment at Seventeen. We have a small staff, and we all help one another. We want everyone to be successful, and there is no competition. I am constantly asking my staff for their input.
I feel very fortunate to have a career I love and to have gotten to where I am, so whenever anyone asks for my advice or help getting into the business, I am always happy to answer questions and make connections. My favorite editors I’ve worked with over the years have been the ones who help you solve problems, help you grow as a writer and editor, and bring out your best work. I try to be that way, too.
Are you able to carve out a little time to come back to Chicago, too?
I celebrated my 25th reunion at Latin School last year, and it was fun to see so many friends. While I was in town, I also took advantage of having access to high school girls outside of New York, and set up a little focus group with some girls from Latin—including the daughter of one of my sister’s best friends. It was really interesting, and the girls gave me so many ideas for stories that we ended up running in the magazine.
I am still in touch with several of my friends from Latin, both in real life and on Facebook and Instagram. We’re spread out all over the country, but luckily for me, Zoe Dassios Khayatt lives in Greenwich and Caroline Laskow lives in Manhattan, so I see them often.
When I worked at People, I had to go to Nashville for a story, and so I was able to see Katherine Kuhn Stephenson and her father, the great Paul Kuhn. So many of my Latin friends have daughters, but they are still a little too young to read Seventeen. I can’t wait for them to get a little older!