Tumblr wants a team of journalists to report the latest and greatest happening on its microblogging platform. The NYC-based website made its first major move in that direction by hiring Chris Mohney on Thursday, to serve as the site's editor-in-chief.
Mohney, who was previously BlackBook Media's senior VP of content, assures that Tumblr's hiring decision isn't just a PR stunt.
We don't want to pimp Tumblr as a feat of functionality, Mohney said. It's meant to be: There happens to be a really cool community doing work in and around Tumblr. We don't want to highlight the way they're doing the work so much as the work they're doing.
Tumblr is serious about finding a way to organize and highlight the best articles on its platform. The company also hired Jessica Bennett, a senior writer and editor at The Daily Beast and Newsweek, to be the site's executive editor. She says she will also be a kind of Tumblr correspondent.
Basically, if Tumblr were a city of 42 million, said Bennett, referring to the number of Tumblr blogs that exist, I'm trying to figure out how we cover the ideas, themes and people who live in it.
Why Tumblr Needed An Editorial Approach
Tumblr, which combines elements of traditional blogging and Twitter, allows users to share text, photos, links, slideshows, and videos with each other, and also follow and re-post content from each other's blogs. The site has attracted more female teens to the site than any other social network, and 57 percent of Tumblr users are under the age of 34, according to Nielsen.
Tumblr has incredible reader engagement, especially with younger fans, but it could do so much more.
Organizing in-house content is the best way for users to easily see and share the site's best products; it's also a vital tool for users to know what to expect each time they visit the website. Creating expectations in a website -- even general ones like quality or order -- is a big factor in a user's returning to that site.
The Internet's best websites find the most appropriate way to aggregate and organize the best information for users. Facebook uses a News Feed filter and promotes relevant messages with high user engagement. Twitter uses promoted tweets and a new Discover tool to help show users what's trending and popular. Reddit lets its users upvote their favorite links and stories. Now, Tumblr will organize their best content with an editorial staff.
Mohney's plan to better engage fans is to take great overlooked work users post on Tumblr and help them get the attention they deserve. Some of Tumblr's featured stories will be found organically, but Tumblr wants its best of section to be hand-picked.
Most important to me than how its expressed, or how it looks, is that the quality and sincereity of it is of the highest level, Mohney said. We don't want to promote things for the sake of promoting things. We don't want to promote something because we have to or because something is 'Tumblr Famous.' I think that kind of thing is lethal, especially to the bullshit detector of people who are on Tumblr or people who write about Tumblr.
Tumblr's new editorial chiefs also want to bring significant news to the forefront. In the last year, Tumblr hosted incredible posters, essays, blogs and campaigns about health scares, foreign conflicts, and the Occupy Wall Street protests. Tumblr's vice president Andrew McLaughlin assures that stories like these will help Tumblr capture real journalism and analysis, not P.R. fluff.
Of course, it's obviously in our self-interest as a company to surface more compelling stories about creators on Tumblr, said Andrew McLaughlin, Tumblr's vice president. At the same time, though, we think Chris and Jessica will be able to do so in ways that embody professional rigor and first-rate writing.
Tumblr already has a blog curated by the entire staff -- including the company's founder David Karp -- but Mohney and Bennett have brainstormed ways to differentiate their product from the more randomized staff blog.
The stuff we produce has to be of the highest standard, Mohney said. We have to do quality work that's of that standard. It could be something that has nothing to do with Tumblr. It has to have an outward-facing perspective. Now I'm speaking in a million different abstractions; as you can tell, we're still starting.
Mohney said that he and Bennett won't start the new editorial venture until the end of February, so the pair will have plenty of time to figure out the best system that serve's Tumblr's needs.
I've been paying attention to criticism, complaints, and the lack of understanding of the general concept, Mohney said. The objections that I've seen so far seem to fall into one of two ideas. One, Tumblr's not serious enough to merit this kind of attention, and the other, that the project is going to be some elitist popularity contest. All of which is the furthest thing from what I'd want to do, or what I'd sign up to do.
Jessica and I are sympatico in that we're not interested in doing PR. Yes, we want to highlight cool and creative things. But it's a lot less 'look at all these wonderful Tumblrs' and more 'look at all this great work on Tumblr.'
Tumblr has been fast on the rise. In 2011, it surpassed Wordpress.com in number of blogs hosted, and even beat out Twitter in number of page views. In June, Tumblr set a new record high of 400 million page views in a day, and in September, the social blogging site celebrated its 10 billionth post. Tumblr averages about 13 billion page views each month.
Bennett says she is excited about the role of editorial at Tumblr going forward.
Tumblr is basically hiring a staff to celebrate creativity and innovation, she said. How many companies can say that?