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Lit Ten years after Rookie, the teen magazine community lives on

Jan. 19, 2022
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The first and only time I met Tavi Gevinson, the editor-in-chief of Rookie, was on a Saturday night in 2018. I was in the children’s section of a bookstore in Seattle, and Tavi was there for a stop on the Rookie on Love tour. In the span of probably 45 seconds, I word-vomited to Tavi a meticulously rehearsed train of thought about how Rookie’s art and writing had been so important to me growing up.

Considering I wasn’t the best at public speaking at eighteen, I probably sounded like a mess—especially given the fact that I was talking to the reigning queen of the online zine community herself, Her Majesty Tavi GevinsonBut somehow, Tavi deciphered my nervous ramble, was super nice, and wrote an encouraging note in my book. I left the event feeling genuinely energized. It was nice to see people’s passion and love for teen media in person—like most Rookie fans, I’d only ever experienced the zine behind a laptop screen. 

If you were to look at my email’s “sent” folder between 2014 and 2017, you’d find an embarrassing number of pitches I sent to Rookie that all went unanswered (which is fair, considering they were horrendous). As a teenager, there was nothing I wanted more than a Rookie byline. That definitely never happened, but there was no way my younger self would have anticipated getting to talk to Tavi or have her sign my Rookie yearbook. So you definitely win some.

About nine months after I met Tavi, I woke up on a Friday morning to hear that Rookie would be ceasing publication. In Tavi’s final editor’s letter, she cited many reasons for this, from Rookie’s business model no longer being financially sustainable to it being time to move on to different creative endeavors.

For years, it felt almost ingrained in my morning routine to wake up, scroll through Instagram, and see Rookie’s art at the very top of my feed. Now, at the beginning of 2022, it’s been over three years since their posts have come up on my timeline. It’s jarring to realize Rookie’s legacy is ten years old now—and to realize I’m currently the same age Tavi was when she decided to stop publishing the zine.

Even though it’s been three years without it, I still hear about Rookie from time to time—sometimes in the form of a TikTok from a Gen-Z creator who’s reminiscing about Petra Collins and other bygones of the early 2010s online teen media sphere. It feels undeniable that Rookie’s legacy lives on in Gen-Z writers and creatives today.

Sometimes when thinking about Rookie, I wonder—what would the zine look like if it was still around today? How would it have changed to adapt to the teen media landscape as it currently stands?

In 2018, Rookie’s last year of publication, I felt more attached to the zine than I had in high school. Sure, as a high schooler I’d owned all four Rookie yearbooks; I’d regularly sent slews of badly formatted and less-than-coherent emails that were supposed to resemble “pitches” to Rookie (that all were rightly ghosted). But in early college, I found myself constantly revisiting the Rookie Year 1 yearbook that lived on my dorm’s bookshelf. 

I’m not sure if my persistent Rookie revisiting was because the yearbook was one of five books on my shelf. But for some reason, reading Rookie in my new and very unfamiliar dorm room became akin to the comfort of being sixteen in your childhood bedroom, eating a pint of ice cream while scrolling through Tumblr or Rookie, and feeling curious about what growing up is like.

Rookie became more enthralling as I got older and realized just how culturally significant the artists and music featured in the zine were. I loved discovering new songs on the themed playlists and finding an old David Sedaris interview in the Rookie archivesI didn’t listen to much public radio when I was younger, so it took a few years to realize how cool it was that I could watch This American Life’s creator and audio story extraordinaire Ira Glass doing a DIY balloon animal tutorial. It definitely took me a few years to realize how cool it was that Rookie had articles and interviews featuring artists like Miranda July and Joanna Newsom

Throughout the years, the teen magazine industry has occupied different niches to provide teenagers a place for creative self-expression. Helen Valentine founded Seventeen in the 1940s because she wanted to create a publication that allowed teen girls to see and hear themselves in print. Magazines like J-14 and Tiger Beat gave tweens a place to obsess over celebrity crushes. Today, the internet has enabled teens and young adults across the world to create online zines of their own, recruiting writers and artists along the way. 

My foray into the expansive world of teen media first began in middle school when I kept seeing cool girls like Lily Collins on the cover of Teen Vogue and Seventeen. As a preteen, I was eager to outgrow Scholastic book fairs and upgrade to the mystical world of glossy magazines that enticed me every time I saw them at the supermarket—but when it came to the actual articles in Seventeen and Teen Vogue, everything felt like it’d been written by a much older sibling, making me, the reader, an awkward younger sibling. Though all the articles were written about teens and for teens, it was clear they were all written by adults who had long forgotten about the awkwardness of teenhood and didn’t even know what teens were into. 

I remember flipping through Teen Vogue’s glossy pages and finding a long research-based article about medical marijuana. Though the article made sense to me, I wondered—was a hard-hitting, long-form article really the best way to educate young adults about medical marijuana’s impact on America? The article featured quotes from health professionals, but there wasn’t a single testimony from a young adult. If an article is meant to speak to teens, shouldn’t teens’ voices be included in the conversation? 

Today’s online zine community is extremely welcoming to young writers of all backgrounds and experience levels. I’ve been writing for online magazines for a couple of years now, and I’m really proud of the body of freelance writing I’ve created—and I know for a fact that my passion for online magazines wouldn’t have existed without all the teen magazines I read growing up.

What I appreciated about Rookie was its ability to to write for both older and younger teens. Rookie writers penned articles about the unglamorous parts of being a teen, like stressing over your first kiss and navigating the testy waters of friend drama. Rookie’s inquisitive and very personal essays always made me feel like I had a friend to lean on. It felt especially important to me that most of the staff writers were also young adults; it was inspiring to know people my age were talented enough to write for Rookie

Rookie was special because it represented actual young people. While adults are often quick to dismiss teenagers as immature or too naive to fully understand the world, Rookie proved them completely wrong.

The zine community is still alive and well, and it’s invigorating to see new writers and artists joining teen-run magazines. But with many major newsrooms shutting down and even more magazines going entirely online in recent years, is it still possible to emulate Rookie’s legacy? Or are we in a totally new and unique era of online teen magazine history?

It’s true that I’ll never be able to list a Rookie byline on my CV—but I’ve been able to contribute to a number of great publications where I’ve met other talented and kind writers, who are my biggest supporters. I’m sure my younger self also would be pleased to know I’m still in love with writing for magazines—and I surely have Rookie to thank for that continuity.