In the beginning, there was Tavi, the 15-year-old Chicago fashion blogger armed with the kind of wit and fashion savvy that most adults never ascertain. She’s sassy, young, knowledgeable, and pretty damn fearless. After launching her blog, The Style Rookie, when she was just 11, people began to take notice, not just because of her style, but her character. She’s matured a bit, as people heading into their teenage years so often do, and has even been profiled in the New Yorker, officially making her a thing. People love precocious children, but so often these subjects seem a bit distant and detached, capable of just one or two super-natural talents. Tavi seems to get life just a bit more.
With the help of a team of adults, she’s just launched a new website called Rookie that’s geared toward teenage girls. One of the adults involved is Minnesota native and managing editor of Rookie, Emily Condon, the former program director at the Oak Street Cinema and alumna of the now-defunct print emporium Shinders. We recently caught up with Condon, who is also the office manager at This American Life, to talk about Rookie, which launched this past Monday.
The A.V. Club: So, it’s a lot of work launching a website.
Emily Condon: It sure is. And we did it in about a month, which is about a year shorter time than what most people do it in.
AVC: How did you get involved with Rookie?
EC: My normal job is as the office manager at This American Life. So, Ira Glass, the host and my boss, and his wife, Anaheed Alani, is the editorial director of Rookie and had been working on it with her for quite a while. The plan had been that Tavi signed a contract with a company called Say Media, an online publisher. They were to be the publisher of Rookie, but sort of at the 11th hour she decided to not do that because—well, it wasn’t acrimonious in any way, but she wanted to maintain ownership. I sort of joined the conversation at that point and helped make decisions and helped figure out what the best options were, and was doing this all informally at this point. Then, in July, very suddenly, when they decided officially not to go with Shea, we figured out that we were going to have to do this ourselves. At that point, I came in officially in the managing editor role. So I took a partial leave of absence from This American Life and I’ve been doing this ever since.
AVC: So you’ve actually left TAL so that you could help launch the site?
EC: Oh, yeah, this is a full-time job. It’s a lot of work. None of it was designed, none of it was programmed. There was no business yet. We’re building an entire business. And then there’s editorial and just, well, creating the whole thing. It’s been very much full-time.
AVC: One thing that strikes me about Tavi is that she’s followed by a lot of adults. This site is targeted at teens. What’s her teen following like?
EC: It’s big. She definitely has an adult following, but she has a huge teen following also. For instance, when we launched this, we weren’t sure what the ratio of adult to teen readers would be, and in some ways, we have no way of knowing how old people are that are reading it. We’re more than happy to have adults reading it, especially young women. But it’s become clear in the couple days since we’ve launched that teenage girls are absolutely reading this, just by looking at the comments. And of course her personal blog, Style Rookie, has a big teen following. And it’s not just American teens, but teens from all over the place, all over the world. We get letters from girls in Ireland, Hong Kong, she has a big Japanese following. So, it’s teenage girls not just here, but internationally.
AVC: The publishing schedule is after school because, well, kids aren’t online during the school day, generally. Do you think you’ll ever move beyond that?
EC: It’s hard to speculate, but I can say that this structure was very much part of Tavi’s original vision. It’s not just that that’s when kids are on the Internet, but the publishing three times a day is very intentional. She very much thought about how the Internet has evolved, and how there has become this obsession with constant information and constant updating. There’s this obsession with constant information, probably because most online advertising is based on pageviews. But what Tavi is responding to is this kind of information fatigue. It’s too much information for most people, and a lot of it seems like filler. It’s just content for content’s sake. She’s trying to implement this idea that we’re posting three times a day and the posts are going to be substantial. It’s going to be quality of content over frequency.
AVC: A lot of celebrities are already involved. How does that happen? Do people just flock to Tavi?
EC: It’s on a case-by-case basis. The editorial staff, which is about 30 people who she chose from submissions that came in from around the world—most of them are teens or those in their young 20s. Sometimes they know or suggest someone. Sometimes it’s celebrities who come to us and have wanted to write, other times there have been connections with the editorial staff. Like Anaheed Alani just happens to know Joss Whedon and told him about the project. He got excited and said he’d love to be involved. So it’s a mix of both.