New Age: Recens Paper founder Elise By Olsen on defying generational genres
The Gen Z publisher shares how she found her place on the internet, and off it, Berlin
Features > New Age: Recens Paper founder Elise By Olsen…

The world’s youngest editor in chief, a blogger by the age of eight and a magazine founder at just 13—all are handles that tend to follow 16-year-old Elise By Olsen of Recens Paper.

But for the Oslo-based teenager, it’s irrelevant. “It’s too bad because I think Recens would still be good if I wasn’t that young. I don’t think it has anything to do with my age.”

‘In constant riot’ with mainstream media, Recens showcases new creative talent and documents the zeitgeist of youth culture. The publication is gender-neutral, filled with sophisticated editorials, and devoid of references to celebrities—an outlier among many contemporary publications aimed at the under 25 market. They recruit globally via a submission form and communicate with their contributors through social media. “Recens means like ‘new thinking’ or ‘young’, ‘fresh’ and ‘upcoming’ in Latin. Very clichéd! But we were searching for a name and thought, ‘Yeah that fits.’ I don’t know if it’s pronounced reh-cens, or ree-cens or if it’s reck-ens…” Elise trails off. She is visiting Berlin to promote the publication. We are sitting on a park bench on a typically overcast and windy afternoon. A match of table tennis ends up being an inadvertent game of catch. Elise’s eyes are blushed a reddish pink (“My mom hates it, she says it makes me look sick”), a stark contrast to her pale complexion and cropped ice-white white hair, a color which changes regularly.

“Recens means like ‘new thinking’ or ‘young’, ‘fresh’ and ‘upcoming’ in Latin.”

The first issue of Recens, released in 2013, was funded largely with her Confirmation gift money and a “little Kickstarter.” By the third and fourth issue, magazine and ad sales were buoyant enough that it could fund itself. This foray into print followed Archetype, an online-platform for young Scandinavian bloggers, founded in 2012 by Elise and fellow Norwegian teenagers with whom she connected on Instagram. Like her, they felt there was “no space” for their age-group in the blogosphere—the extension into print as Recens followed. “Half a year later, we sent 1,000 magazines to print. My parents barely knew, I think they thought, ‘It’s a phase, it’s going to pass.’ I have gone through so many phases in my life, all these things that I have tested—wanting to be this and wanting to do that. It’s a part of growing up, but this stage has lasted for a long time…three years now,” she says, sagely. Recens reflects this metamorphic period of our lives (something Elise believes recurs beyond adolescence) in its content: each issue centers around the cycles of self-discovery, to date: Explore, Observe, Create, Share.

Two people work on the biannual publication ‘full-time’: Elise and 36-year-old graphic designer and art director Morteza Vaseghi. It’s the kind of age gap that ruffles feathers and given that the publication aims to diversify the media by giving under 25’s a platform to create content, it would seem a point of contention. But, Elise explains, “Yes, we have this statement that we want to feature people under 25 in our magazine, like, our best journalist is 14, from Seoul in South Korea. But it’s also important to have Morteza there, because you need to work ageless and across generations. I think his generation and my generation can learn so much from each other, it’s a good dynamic to have in the team.” The two other members that make up the core four, among their host of young, international contributors, are in-house photographer Maria Pasenau and their 17-year-old copy editor from Sweden Felicia Granath.

Born at the dawn of Generation Z, in the year 2000, Elise is among the first of her cohort to, so to say, come of age. The race to stereotype the generation—often cast with necks crooked down, faces illuminated by their screens—is already on. These are the children for whom the internet has always been a constant; who channel their lives into social media: blogs, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat (studies in the US indicate more than half of Generation Z have made friends online). Stimulated by an endless feed of information, they were born into anxiety, at a time of global conflict and economic turmoil. Or so it goes.

“You need to work ageless and across generations.”

Elise first revealed in an interview with The Guardian that she had begun blogging at eight. She animatedly describes the interviewer’s disbelief, gesticulating wildly, and is quick to clarify that it was blogging in it’s most basic, click and publish, sense. “When you’re eight you barely know how to write so it was like, ‘I ate this for dinner’, ‘I was out with my friend today and we were in the playground.’ It was all mostly that. I used to blog like that until I was like 11, and then I started more of a ‘fashion blog’, I don’t know if I can call it that, but I was taking photos of my outfits and stuff,” she says.

Raised in suburbs of Oslo, Elise grew up practically as an only child (she has a older half-sister with whom she has never lived), and describes being plagued by a crippling shyness growing up. “I’ve always been this very shy person, until I was 14 I couldn’t even say ‘Hi, I don’t need any help’, in the shops, I don’t know why. I couldn’t talk and my dad always had to speak for me,” she says. And so, the internet became a place to gravitate towards like-minded people that she wasn’t meeting in ‘real life.’ “I didn’t have anything in common with anyone out there [in Oslo] to be honest. I had a lot of different types of friends, you know there’s always different gangs in classes but I was in all of them, I was moving around and talked to everyone, friends with everyone, but at the same time I couldn’t find my spot. Having internet friends, I felt like I had this crew behind me—even though it wasn’t physical, it was still there.” She had become accustomed to cultivating her online friendships during school lunchtimes and found her online fame brought with it a disorienting shift IRL. “Later, I was interviewed in The Guardian and people at school saw that I had 2,000 friends on Facebook they were like, ‘Oh, you’re so popular! Oh my god, we have to like it.’ That was actually quite weird for me because I hadn’t been respected by them ever.”

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“Having internet friends, I felt like I had this crew behind me—even though it wasn’t physical, it was still there.”

On the topic of respect, it’s difficult to avoid enquiring after her experiences in the industry, being only 16. Set in an environment where young people face the tribulations of internship cycles, it would seem unrealistic that her age would go unnoticed. “This is very sad, because I feel that I don’t have to be worried about it, but I still am. It feels probably the same for me with age as what some women in business settings would feel, ’cause unfortunately it is like that—you’re underestimated because of your age, especially in Norway, I think.” It’s a statement that seems at odds with the liberal image many of us have crafted of the Nordic nation. She continues, “I’m speaking also about the economic aspect of stuff. I don’t get paid as much as everyone else which I think is super stupid, just because I don’t have any education in the field doesn’t mean I don’t have any great ideas. That’s what I’m fighting for, for young people. I work with so many of them and I know so many of them get underestimated and used for commercial benefit, but I guess that’s how it is, everywhere in the world.” She admits that had she not grown up in a wealthy country such a Norway, starting a magazine at 13 might not have been a possibility.

Running Recens is now a full-time commitment. School, which she doesn’t attend anymore, is “a complicated situation.” A defense of her generation follows this admission: “We’re a multitasking generation, and that’s perhaps also the reason that I can run a magazine with all this administration, marketing, recruiting, communication, and sales all this stuff that I do, because I’m mastering this multitasking and it’s not only me. I made a business model—because in Norway you can ask for money from the state and I’m very lucky that I can do that—I had a ten minute course on Youtube and then I knew everything about it, and that’s like a whole study at business school,” she says confidently. The idea follows on from her 2016 TED talk, ‘A Manifest from Generation Z’, in which she encouraged the youth to challenge the system and self-educate, largely using the internet. While her stance has since wavered, hesitant about the veracity of information delivered by the internet’s algorithms (“There’s a lot of stuff that you won’t learn because it won’t show up when you search for it”) she wants education to empower. “For creative education, we need less of those ‘pretend you’re writing an article for this newspaper’ exercises. Instead it should be, ‘Write an article for this newspaper’ and get it published. We’re supposed to pretend all this stuff and I think it’s really weird.”

“We’re a multitasking generation, and that’s perhaps also the reason that I can run a magazine.”

For Recens, a fashion project and expansion into an online platform are in the pipeline, adding to the table of youth-empowering structures. Elise doesn’t claim to be the voice of a generation, but is certainly one that will continue to rally against the diagnosis of her contemporaries: “People think teenagers are so stupid these days, and maybe that’s because some youngsters are stupid as well, but most of them are not! We know so much more than people think.” Our conversation continues on as Elise has her portrait taken at the park. Etched into a wooden plank of the climbing frame behind her, lingering just above her head, we catch sight of the words: ‘When I grow up I can be anything I want.’

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Thank you Elise, for sharing your thoughts with us. Keep up with Recens Paper here.

Interview & Text: Ruby Goss
Photography: Robert Rieger