Why We Tumbl

The other day, we were browsing around, as dinosaurs do, and remembered we’d been meaning to respond to this post, which asked the very sensible question: Just what the hell do you think you’re doing with that Tumblr, Newsweek?

The problem with the magazine industry is that they all too often latch on to new technology (Let’s make an iPhone app!  Let’s build a Facebook fan page!  Let’s create print ads with RFID scan technology!  Let’s start a Tumblr blog!) without understanding the REASON behind that beautiful technology.  It’s not a strategy; it’s a last gasp tactic.

Though we’re (and, as a note: though I tend to use the royal “we” when posting for Newsweek, the opinions expressed here are mine alone; I, Mark Coatney, take responsibility for all this, so please, don’t send any outraged letters to Jon Meacham) tempted to dismiss this with our usual devastating wit, it is a good criticism, and one for which, honestly, we don’t fully have a full answer (Believe us, we know all about dumb technology being put to even dumber uses; we keep a CueCat around the office as a cautionary tail (to be fair, we thought that particular feline was a dumbass idea even when the Dallas Morning News was hyping it as the thing that was going to save journalism)).

Ahem. So. Tumblr. Though I see some glimmers of an interesting future for magazine journalism (and I believe this format is adapted especially well to magazine journalism, since it encourages a deeper engagement and dialogue in the same way that Twitter, all fast-twitch muscle, works best with quick hits and breaking news), there’s no real blueprint. There are, though, some glimmers, and most of them have to do with new ways to connect to readers. Most publishers tend to think of the things their audience has to say as, at best, graffiti that they allow to be put on the sides of their nice building. One of the many beauties of Tumblr is that it gives the audience equal footing. There’s a real communication here, not just a lot of people shouting across the comment ghetto to each other, and that’s a rare thing that we should encourage.

Still, I have no idea how to monetize this Tumblog. Maybe this space will have its greatest value as a source of traffic, referring people back to the Newsweek site. Maybe this will be valuable in creating genuine two-way dialogue of like-minded people that are the next generation of our committed, core readers; I think that’s supremely important and I hope this will happen. Maybe this will be super valuable in creating mindshare. Maybe terms like “mindshare” are a load of crap. Who knows? Right now, that’s not as import as experimenting with the form, to see where it takes us.

Why do we Tumbl? In the end, we use Tumblr not because it’s a great way to connect with our readers (though it is that), or because we believe this or something like it is a part of a new way forward for interaction between publishers and audience (though we think that too). We use Tumblr because it’s fun and while, you know, you can’t eat fun, or trade it in for fistfulls of dollars to fund serious journalism, we believe there’s a value in doing things we like simply because we like to do them, and that hopefully our fellow Tumblrs will too.