"It is the end of one era and the beginning of a new and exciting one"
On the eve of our 15th birthday, Dezeen is under new ownership. Founder and editor-in-chief Marcus Fairs explains the reasons behind the sale of the brand he started in his spare bedroom.
Dezeen has a new owner. Almost 15 years after I tapped out my first story on my scrappy little blog, the brand has been acquired by JP/Politiken Media Group.
Owned by two private trusts, the Danish media group is committed to social responsibility and believes that journalism is vital to democracy. A shared belief in these principles was a key reason for the deal.
For our readers, our clients and our team, there won't be any noticeable change. I am staying on, as is the senior management team. We are excited to be embarking on a new chapter in the Dezeen story.
It has been quite a journey. Sometimes I think it's nothing short of a miracle that Dezeen – launched from a spare bedroom with no investment, no business knowledge and no technical skills – has not only survived for so long but has flourished despite formidable odds.
It has been quite a journey
It hasn't been easy. The financial crash of 2008 was a baptism of fire while more recently Brexit and the pandemic have presented severe challenges. Weathering those storms has taken enormous amounts of sweat and ingenuity from every member of the team.
Yet each time, we've emerged stronger than before. Brexit forced us to seek more overseas business while last year, our Virtual Design Festival saw us pivot overnight, introducing a range of new digital services that proved extremely successful. There were times when we didn't think the business would survive but 2020 ended up being a record year for Dezeen.
But more generally, these feel like perilous times to be a journalist.
Fifteen years ago, when I made the switch from print to web, the internet was regarded as a hipster novelty by most print media. Dead-tree newspapers publications were tough but stable places to work. Journalists didn't have to think about the business side of things. Advertising money flowed in and the only tension came when the publisher tried to take away editorial pages to squeeze in yet more ads.
But it wasn't long before internet titles became an existential threat to their print forebears. Job losses mounted and salaries stagnated while the new breed of online titles like Dezeen lived on their wits (or on silly investment money).
On the internet, there is always a better-funded rival who wants to eat your lunch
For former print journalists like me, the internet was an exhilarating space where you could reach huge audiences without any of the overheads of a legacy media brand. You could get your words in front of readers in minutes rather than days or weeks. The hyperlink was a profound new tool that turned words on a 2D screen into a multi-dimensional universe of information.
There were exciting new formats to experiment with such as video, live streaming and podcasting. Crucially, blogging facilitated a two-way conversation with readers, thanks to comments sections, rather than the we-tell-you approach of traditional media. The internet felt like a utopia.
However, new players soon emerged to challenge upstart blogs. On the internet, there is always a better-funded rival who wants to eat your lunch. The biggest of these are Facebook and Google which, between them, hoover up 70 per cent of all online advertising.
Yet they are also the two biggest sources of traffic to websites like Dezeen, so we have to keep feeding them with free content in order to draw people to our site. It's a perpetual uneasy truce.
On top of this, the rise of the internet has, in western democracies at least, shattered the consensus over what journalism is and what it is for. There has always been fake news, but it spreads more easily and is harder to counteract on the web.
Dezeen is a product of the internet age but our journalistic values stem from the print age
Filter bubbles have segmented audiences and allowed everyone to create their own version of reality – and made them susceptible to targeting by bad actors pushing their own agendas. Populist leaders, particularly former US president Donald Trump, have demonised the media for their own ends, fanning flames of mistrust. Journalism is threatened on multiple fronts.
Dezeen is a product of the internet age but our journalistic values stem from the print age. These have, at times, had to adapt to technical and commercial realities but we believe in lofty concepts such as truth, accuracy, balance, transparency and the right to reply.
There are some causes that are dear to us, particularly diversity and the urgent need to address the climate crisis; there are some topics that we choose to steer clear of. But beyond that, we want to reflect a plurality of views and approaches. We want to set the agenda but not push an agenda.
I have always regarded myself as a journalist first and foremost. It's a discipline that I love and believe in. But, of course, I also love and believe in the importance of architecture and design.
As a platform, Dezeen produces journalism for the global architecture and design sector. Our job is to keep our readers informed, inspired, provoked and entertained. Dezeen exists to give our global community a platform where the best work and the most important topics are shared, celebrated and debated.
We want Dezeen to be able to continue to do this long into the future. We want Dezeen to forever be a bastion of independent journalism, a champion of architecture and design and a force for good in the world.
Thanks to all our staff, partners and readers for helping us reach this milestone
To this end, we have found a soul mate in JP/Politiken Media Group. It is a private trust that exists to "equip citizens with facts and knowledge that make them better able to take an active part in a democratic society". It is one of the biggest media groups in Denmark, owning several national newspapers and many other titles, but it allows each to follow its own independent path.
I've been having on-and-off conversations with key figures at the group for a couple of years and it has gradually become clear that there could be no better home for the brand we've built over the last 15 years. They will support us and help us to grow while strengthening our resolve to achieve ever-higher standards of journalism and to deliver ever more exciting and ambitious content and services.
I am staying on as CEO (while stubbornly holding on to my beloved editor-in-chief title) and I look forward to taking Dezeen forward in these uncertain times with greater purpose and confidence. Thanks to all our staff, partners and readers for helping us reach this milestone. It is the end of one era and the beginning of a new and exciting one. We look forward to the next phase of our journey with you.