December 18, 2018
"Dream Job," a comic by Elly Malone on Rookie


I hope that you are treating yourself & your loved ones well this holiday season. I am very much in break mode, but I can't break yet, so I'm mustering every bit of energy I can to tie up loose ends and blah blah blah and then, ah, relax.

This issue, I'm talking about the end of Rookie, an online magazine for and by teens, founded by Tavi Gevinson in 2011. I purchased a copy of Tavi's first anthology "Rookie on Love" at a reading earlier this year, and I still think about the essays a lot. I'd just moved to Brooklyn in the bitter January cold, and yet I was flipping through pages waiting for the bus, transported to a place that was compassionate and self-aware and timeless.  — Natalie 

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did we deserve Rookie?

As a teen consumer of YM (ugh) and Seventeen (mostly ugh) and Cosmo Girl (while it lasted),  the magazine Rookie was a 7-year gift I certainly hoped we'd never lose. Rookie’s founder and editor-in-chief Tavi Gevinson wrote a letter about her “baby’s” end on Nov. 30. The letter was like a “dissertation on the state of digital media,” noting everything from the empty promise of venture capital, uptick in scamming, and utter inescapability of capitalism. She alludes to a stereotypical businessman named Bryce, who'd perhaps buy her beloved magazine that was no longer financially viable, and then drain it of the quality and passion that ignited relationships and attracted talented people over all these years. Tavi also wrote that women’s and teen magazines of late “have gotten more progressive and more interesting.” That’s absolutely true, but did it mean we couldn’t make room for Rookie? 

For those unfamiliar, Rookie published work such as an essay on how to let go of your first love, podcast episodes with Winona Ryder and Roxane Gay, and an interview with everyone's favorite, Lizzo. It was an online community, brought together by a rare combination: a monthly theme, art, and the internet. Original as it was, Rookie’s demise felt all too familiar. In two years alone, we lost Lenny Letter — which opinions on Lena aside, published a lot of solid work — as well as The Hairpin and The Toast. While I sort of skewed a bit too old to identify as a "Rookie," reading Tavi and the cohort she built, felt like paying attention and listening to younger people. These younger people were concerned with questions of identity and eager to learn from patient "old," and they interacted under a primarily female gaze. Taking the time to closely read Rookie, which was also very fun, was something I’d wished people — maybe white men with, ugh, venture capital — would sincerely do for me.

The phenomenon of shuddered women’s publications, while seemingly more frequent in 2018, isn’t new. Women’s and teen girl’s media has long existed on a spectrum of fits and starts; some of them survive, and some are practically sanded down to the point of becoming unrecognizable before our very eyes. Some weirdly flashy new publications, such as Teen Boss, feel like a gross foreboding of where we’re heading. Yet this sentiment remains true: “The one thing that has stayed the same,” Bitch magazine co-founder Andi Zeisler told Longreads, “is the fact that alternative presentations of media by and for girls and young women is really overlooked as a cultural force.” This newsletter exists to examine and celebrate and understand that cultural force, which unfortunately the Bryces we must engage with for money, or media reporters such as CNN's Oliver “Ariana Grande Isn’t Serious” Darcy, may never give a shit about. As Tavi told Slate, "It shouldn't be this hard to keep a small independent magazine afloat."

Women’s media can sometimes feel disposable, and that perhaps stings the most if we consider the many other areas of female existence where that condition applies. I know the whole industry is a dumpster fire, and I’d too rather no Rookie than a Rookie run by Bryce. I get especially bummed that the inevitable folding of the next, extremely rare *good* publication will prompt a mourning I’m well prepared for. The postmortem of a good women’s or teen publication does not often provoke a nuanced conversation. It does not often demand a deep consideration of the political, economic, and social disenfranchisement of women, the dismissal or erasure of our voices, the acknowledgement that maybe this media experiment, like say the Walt Disney Company or Barstool, didn’t have to end.

Sassy Magazine, which inspired Rookie
Occasionally, we get silver linings like Rookie, whose spirit I hope outlives the toxic internet, CEOs suddenly obsessed with “storytelling,” and broken business models that couldn’t save it. I don't mean this in a "making the future better for my daughter" sort of way, because I and basically women of every generation I know adored Rookie for its irreverence, honesty, and plain inclusiveness. The elevation of teen voices and openly political nature of Rookie — which produced amazing playlists, comics, collages, photos, you name it — is still radical. It’s also radical to suggest that investors might one day understand the zeitgeist of the markets — even those with high turnovers like teen — they’d prospectively invest in.

I’m hesitant to view Rookie only as a website or an online community, where so many women have carved out “safe spaces” without men. It was a cultural force, as is much of women’s media, because it united many of us, in a society where even powerful women show more allegiance to the patriarchy than to one another. The end of Rookie isn’t just about mourning another publication. “I think zines have always been counterculture and they are more about creating a community around a thing, and that is really appealing to women. I think that’s why something like Rookie has been really successful.” MEL’s Alana Levinson told Clipped earlier this year. “Zines are all about join in, anyone can share this. A lot of times they are free.” Art projects, as Tavi noted, don’t last forever; businesses presumably want to. How, in this economy, can alternative women's media do both? 

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Written by
Natalie Daher. Designed by Martina Ibanez-Baldor.
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