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Tavi Gevinson End of the Decade

Tavi Gevinson reflects on Rookie’s first day

The magazine crafted so much of internet and youth culture as we know it, and changed many girls’ lives for the better – here we go back to the start

Deep fakes, influencers, viral fashion – we live in a world unrecognisable from the one we stood in ten years ago. As a chaotic decade comes to a close, we're speaking to the people who helped shape the last ten years and analysing the cultural shifts that have defined them. Explore the decade on our interactive timeline here, or head here to check out all our features.

There was a time when Rookie felt like it would be forever. I first met Tavi Gevinson, its founder, in the summer of 2016, interviewing the writer, publisher and actress for a Dazed profile outside a West Village restaurant. Three things stick out in my mind from our meeting, which remains one of the most special experiences in my time at the magazine. One, her outfit, a floral Coach dress she had worn to the Met Gala the previous week and was wearing with white trainers today, an impossibly cool thing. Two, that we were interrupted by a friendly middle-aged man who was walking past at one point, who I recall Gevinson said was the Rookie annual’s publisher: like a pop-up reminder of the economic, grown-up architecture that in actuality, structured her teen girl-penned website. And three, an anecdote Gevinson told involving her friends and fellow ‘teen saviours’, Amandla Stenberg and Willow Smith. “Willow was like, ‘Rookie is so Tumblr”, recalled Gevinson in our chat. “And Amandla was like, ‘No, woah, Rookie started that. Tumblr is Rookie. And I was like, ‘I know, where’s my money?’” She was joking, but also kind of not. 

I didn’t think much of those moments, then – beyond my firm belief that Rookie had crafted so much of internet and youth culture as we know it, and changed many girls’ lives for the better, helping them to self-actualise – but as we reach the end of the decade in which Rookie Magazine was founded (2011) and eventually ended (2018), they ring a little differently now. Even as early as 2016, culture had caught up to the pioneering voice of Rookie and the site, like Gevinson herself, felt like it was being called upon to grow up by external forces. Rookie shuttered in November 2018: in the year since, you may have read Gevinson’s recent longread for New York Magazine, a razor-sharp confessional which asked, “Who Would Tavi Gevinson Be Without Instagram?” As ever, Gevinson’s instinct – especially on how cultural and technological forces shape our identity – was way ahead of the rest of us.

When I asked Gevinson if she would like to contribute to our End of Decade timeline, it felt right to think about the beginning, rather than the now well-documented end, of the brilliant force that was Rookie. Having gone on to be so influential, forging some of the sharpest authors and creatives of today (people like Hunter Schafer, Amy Rose Spiegel, and Petra Collins) it’s easy to forget that, at its core, Rookie was simply a really good idea. 

Before that first Editor’s Letter was posted in September 2011, there was a simple ‘homepage’ sketch on a piece of paper – which Gevinson shares below. But just as interesting is the second memory Gevinson shared with us from Rookie’s beginnings: an email, nestled somewhere amid her ‘thousands of Rookie-related emails’, that also dates from the year of its birth. Sent to Choire Sicha at the Awl (also now defunct) to entice prospective advertisers, it’s a more commercially-minded version of Rookie’s mission statement. Showing how Gevinson was thinking about how Rookie could be built as a brand, and hence survive, from day one, it debunks one popular narrative that Rookie behaved too purely to be commercially viable. And yet, it is also so pure: there’s a naivety to Gevinson’s assertion that her own following was “sure to bring ROOKIE tons of traffic from day one” that makes one nostalgic for a time when it felt like, by posting your point of view online, you could reach whoever you wanted, wherever they were in the world, at any given time. A time when self-publishing wasn’t the same as self-promotion, and when audiences really felt like communities. A rookie kind of internet, before we knew too much. Below, Tavi Gevinson shares two hand-drawn artefacts from the birth of Rookie – a homepage and a publishing schedule – along with her memories of making them.

Tavi Gevinson: I drew these mock-ups of the site in the summer of 2011. I’d had the idea that Rookie would publish three times a day – once when a reader got home from school, once around dinner time, and once before a reader went to bed – and that these posts would live on the homepage, possibly with countdown clocks. Here you’ll also see a sketch of a calendar, which is how I imagined our Table of Contents page looking. I wrote that it would have a “moodboard” viewing option too, where each calendar day was a preview image, which again meant Rookie’s editorial calendar and visuals had to be curated way in advance. I was partly inspired by the way Nowness teased its content, and wanted Rookie to also feel less like a news site or blog and more like an online magazine. And, to get excited about it being online instead of in print, I liked thinking about how each “issue” of Rookie – each calendar month – would unfold daily, in step with readers’ lives. Print couldn’t be alive like that!

The site did end up resembling these designs – the homepage had the three-posts-a-day until we realized how limiting that schedule was, and the Table of Contents remained a “moodboard” for all seven years. But the dinner time post had a much better nickname than what I’d written here. I think it just said “Dinner Time”.

I also find the lists of totally imagined posts on the Table of Contents here kind of funny – “Oh my God! Joss Whedon wrote for us!” “Hailee Steinfeld talked to us and gave us more reasons to be in love with her” handwriting! I do have to say that in those days of the internet, chatty headlines were still somewhat novel and not yet so completely annoying (to me). Same with the hyperbole – looking back through old Rookie posts, I was “in love with” nearly everyone we featured; everyone was a hero, a superhero, a superstar, my idol, a god, a goddess, a genius, a mastermind, a queen, or a king. I wanted them all to be my best friend or my boyfriend or my therapist or my mentor or my mom or my cool aunt or my cool older sister. I am no longer capable of that level of hyperbole, and now I think it makes a lot of internet writing feel extra-inane, but I respect the teenager’s right to it, also knowing that at the time, my enthusiasm didn’t feel hyperbolic; just true.

“I was ‘in love with’ nearly everyone we featured; everyone was a hero, a superhero, a superstar, my idol, a god, a goddess, a genius, a mastermind, a queen, or a king” – Tavi Gevinson

Tavi Gevinson: While digging through thousands of Rookie-related emails, I found one with the subject line “mission statement” from July 2011. I had sent it to Choire Sicha of the Awl – I think we were talking about them being Rookie’s ad reps, and this was for them to send to potential advertisers. This interested me now because a lot of the “mission statement” stuff from Rookie’s early days were for our readers, and this was my attempt to sound advertiser-friendly. (In another email, I wrote that ‘sponsored content for an online magazine for teenagers feels wrong’ – how things change!) I also find it hilarious that I confidently said Rookie was a “bi-annual print magazine,” so positive that we’d figure that part out later. (We kind of did – Rookie published annual print compilations for four years.)

Tavi Gevinson’s email from July 2011 sent to Choire Sicha at the Awl:

“ROOKIE is a website and bi-annual print magazine with a target audience of teenage girls. We aim to change the way people write for teenage girls -- our tone is honest and authentic; our humor can be sarcastic and dry but we still show sincere passion for our readers and topics. We respect and value our readers’ voices with frequent reader contributions and in our non-condescending tone. Overall, we aim to sound more like a best friend or cool older sister than a parent or teacher. We want our readers to leave our site feeling good about themselves, creatively inspired, and motivated to share and explore their own voices. 

ROOKIE is not for the wallflower, or the outgoing bold girl, or the "tomboy," or "cheerleader." We know, as many of our staff are teenage girls, that most teenage girls probably feel like a different person each day. This site is simply what we believe teenage girls, regardless of superficial differences like music or clothing preferences, would like to read. Some just might not know it yet, as most teenage girls are used to being told they need to diet, compete with other girls, etc. We would like to change that.

ROOKIE has already garnered much attention in the press for its unique goal of its founder and editor-in-chief, Tavi Gevinson. Her blog of three years, Style Rookie, has a loyal following from both tight knit online teen communities and members of the media who have been closely following this project. These followings are sure to bring ROOKIE tons of traffic from day one.”