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People of the Year 2015 | Nicholas White

If you’re not familiar with the Daily Dot, here’s a Twitter-sized summary: It’s an Austin-based online publisher as serious about hard-hitting cybersecurity journalism as it is about viral videos of hockey-playing circus bears.

At the helm is 36-year-old CEO Nicholas White, who previously served as a VP of a group of regional newspapers based in Ohio. There, he pioneered a web-forward approach to local print news to give smaller markets a digital voice. The Daily Dot applies the same mentality to the subject of the Internet, reporting on the web as if it were a city growing in influence and ready to take a place on the global stage.

When the site launched in 2011, the Internet was over-saturated with media, but underserved by the type of journalism that could help unlock its potential. “We’ve barely scratched the surface of what the Internet is doing to human society, and that’s the story we’re here to tell,” says White.

The site began as a grassroots project with articles published directly to social media rather than through a traditional website. By marrying the medium and the message, the Daily Dot staked its claim as insiders writing about outsider communities. That meant authoritatively covering Reddit, e-sports, and subcultures like adult My Little Pony fans (known as “bronies”), without the type of condescending wink-and-nudge you’d see in traditional media. It makes the site feel more like a natural discourse than a spectator sport.

“It’s been said that journalism is a conversation, and I think it’s a specific kind of conversation. It’s supposed to be based on fact and not ideology or belief,” says White. “We think it’s our job to put more of that journalistic conversation out in the world.”

That conversation now involves over 10 million readers a month and a publishing rate of 50 stories a day. White credits the effectiveness of his staff, 80 full-time employees working from offices in New York City, San Francisco and Austin’s Allandale neighborhood, with allowing him to play the role of the idea guy. His focus changes every few months, ranging from business development to editorial standards, which White insists should be bulletproof.

“We do audits on editorial quality all the time. We pick a facet like good ledes, or something more value oriented, like we want there to be original information in each article so that we’re not just aggregating the rest of the universe,” says White.

The combination of tight reporting and insider access has allowed the Daily Dot to dive deep into topics that the mainstream media can’t quite wrap their heads around. When Sony’s servers were compromised last Christmas, the Dot was the first to cover it — and even scored an interview with the hackers. This cross-section of Internet culture and societal impact is where the site is at its best, like in one of White’s favorite stories in which writer Kevin Morris explored how the online government simulation game eRepublik is directly inspiring Russian opposition leaders. The Dot’s fearlessness to dig into the nerdiest trenches results in stories that no one else could tell.

Given their intersection between the worlds of media and tech, you might expect the Daily Dot to be headquartered on the East or West coast, but White sees Austin as a sweet spot in the middle. Technology businesses are booming, media companies are growing, and it’s still an affordable place to start a company. By the numbers the Daily Dot is up 500 percent in revenue this year and investors have taken notice with a recent round of $10 million in funding that will allow the company to scale their sales team, editorial ranks, and lean into ideas like e-sports video coverage. But even though they have the funding of a serious Silicon Valley or Silicon Alley media property, White still feels like the personality of Austin is a big influence.

“I think there’s something Internet-y about Austin’s culture of live and let live inclusion,” says White. “Obviously there’s the business side of it here too, but the thing about Austin — and the Internet — is that there’s a place for everyone. Even if you’re a brony.”

CREDITS

Photography by Chad Wadsworth | Hair by Jessica Casarez of Lip Service | Makeup by Dolce - Ivy Kim

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