Over the past couple of weeks we’ve been hearing from many of the people responsible from some of the best websites around, showcasing their brilliance and asking how and why they’ve made such a success of online publishing. It’s fair to say we’ve saved one of the very best for last. Tim Noakes is editor-in-chief of Dazed, having originally started as an intern back in 2001. Here he tells us what that early east London creative scene was like, how the Dazed website has evolved and why he thinks it’s important for his team to be creating culture, not just reporting on it.
How long have you been at Dazed?
I started as an intern while still at college in 2001. The Dazed office was the first place I encountered coloured iMacs – it felt like a fashion bunker from the future. All the interns had to take it in turns to wait for an iMac that was connected to the internet, which was a fun way to spend the day. That and gawping at all the celebrities walking through the office to Rankin’s photo studio at the back. Back then, Dazed Digital was Confused.co.uk. I still slightly miss my email@example.com email address as it suited my state of mind, but I’m glad I no longer get car insurance enquiries.
I remember spending most of my time trying to persuade Callum McGeoch, the music editor, to give me some of his free CDs. He eventually capitulated and let me write a few reviews. That was my first experience of journalism. I actually stumbled upon those reviews the other day – absolutely terrible.
What was the atmosphere in London like when you started?
I was still a student, so everything was optimistic and very DIY. Shoreditch was in the throes of its big transition. The launch of the iPhone was six years away, so Tech City was still quite a desolate area populated by skint students, zombie ravers, drug fiends, and city boys in a hurry to get drunk in Liverpool Street’s wine bars. I suppose not much has changed in that respect. People smoked Marlboro Lights instead of Vape pens. There were no artisan cupcake pop-ups or dirty burger joints, just dirty kebab shops and lots of artists. In the middle of it all was this small office of renegade writers, stylists, photographers and editors turning Dazed into the most exciting indie publisher in the world – and having a blast while doing it.
What does Dazed Digital seek to do, and is that different from the print publication?
Both mediums support each other – for example we just launched our Winter Issue which is all about The Dazed 100; our selection of the hundred people who will set the cultural agenda next year. We simultaneously launched the whole list online as its own entity with its own specially designed content hub. It features loads of audio-visual exclusives, films, expanded galleries, interviews and, most excitingly, the ability for our readers to upvote their favourite people on the list.
People’s reading habits have changed so much, that if you don’t adapt with them, you will not be around in six month’s time. When we changed the print publishing frequency from monthly to seasonal at the start of 2014 it also enabled us to increase the amount of daily digital content as well as launch a video vertical. We now typically publish over 15 new pieces of content a day.
Unlike other sites, we strive to not just report on culture but to help create it. With our FKA Twigs issue for example, we commissioned her to make two original films. The resulting videos went viral and were embedded everywhere, from Pitchfork to the Huffington Post. The print magazine is primarily focused on showcasing the most innovative fashion imagery in the world, whereas the website covers a wider breadth of subject matter, from political activism to topical news stories. It’s all about championing new talent in original ways and engaging with the 18-25 audience in a tone and inspirational style that they can engage and empathise with.
"I have vivid memories of the website in 2004. All it consisted of was a flash animation collage that didn't do anything apart from move around a bit, look cool and offer up our media kit and some of my terrible music reviews."Tim Noakes
Tell us about how you select content, and decide when and what is going up.
Each editor is responsible for a certain area and amount of content. I like to keep it quite autonomous as they’re all experts in their fields. We do a big meeting at the start of the week to map out the publishing schedule, and then smaller daily meets to make sure everything is on track and if there are any topical news stories we need to react to.
There are exceptions though. For example, on Friday night an early cut of our Kendall Jenner “Burn Book” video was leaked to a Brazilian fan site, which sucked. We still don’t know how they got it, but after they refused to take it down we made the decision to immediately publish the real thing instead of waiting until Monday as planned. Now, just three days later, the video has been watched by over 1.7 million people making it the most viewed Dazed film ever. That, combined with our Shia LaBeouf piece (which has been reported on by every leading news organisation in the world), made November the most popular month in Dazed Digital’s history.
How many page views does Dazed get in a month?
Nine million page views and 2.3 million unique visitors. This time last year we had 200,000 uniques. It’s been quite a year.
How often do you guys sit down and re-evaluate the design and look of the site?
We did our last major redesign in November 2012, which is the current version. This was part of a wider editorial review I was in charge of after being hired as editor-in-chief in August of that year, which also involved hiring a whole new team from the ground up. We are always working on backend functionality and introducing new features, such as the Long Read section has been massively popular. I’m sure next year will see some exciting new developments on that front.
Do you have any standout memories from the old designs?
I have vivid memories of the website in 2004. All it consisted of was a flash animation collage that didn’t do anything apart from move around a bit, look cool and offer up our media kit and some of my terrible music reviews. I chose the soundtrack too – it was the instrumental for Crazy Titch’s Sing Along. That track still makes me laugh at the memory. How things have changed!
What do you love about publishing online?
So many things! I love us being able to react instantly. I love creating multiple stories out of one interview – look at what Aimee Cliff did with her Shia Labeouf exclusive. I love how we can interact with our audience both on Dazed Digital and on social media. I love being involved in setting the cultural agenda on daily basis. I’m biased of course, but this is the most switched on, talented team Dazed has ever had. I feel very lucky to work with such a talented bunch.
What’s the reason people should be checking up on Dazed Digital time after time?
We publish 15 agenda-setting stories a day written by the best journalists. We have the most innovative filmmakers and photographers creating new work especially for our platform. We get access to the most exciting talent in the world. And we do it all without taking ourselves too seriously.
Which other websites do you personally go to and read?
Bloomberg Business Week, Reddit, Nowness, AnOther, Dat Piff, Daily Dot, The Verge.
Behind the Screens
The “golden era” of independent publishing has seen an awful lot written about magazines; their enduring influence as well as the challenges facing the industry. Sometimes those discussions have overlooked the amazing things happening in online publishing so in November, we plan to rectify that. For the next few weeks we’ll be speaking to the people who have been beavering away at making the internet a very pleasant and addictive place to visit, finding out their secrets and asking them why they do what they do.