Old Media Flock Like Lemmings to Tumblr

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Photo: Wikimedia

What's the fastest way to steamroll an innovative idea? Institutionalize it. At Newsweek, senior editor Mark Coatney won praise and new readers for his fesity, unedited blog on Tumblr, David Karp's somewhat popular micro-blogging platform. Since leaving Newsweek in mid-July, Coatney has been working as a "media evangelist" for, no surprise, Tumblr, and he's already brought along the old guard. Recent recruits include The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, NPR, The Paris Review, Life, and the New York Times, all hoping to replicate some of Coatney's grassroots success with Tumblr. But will it work?

In a profile by the Times, Karp and Coatney try to position Tumblr as some mystical third rail between Facebook and Twitter. "People are creating identities and personalities that Facebook and Twitter are not designed to allow you to do," says Karp. Tumblr does make it easy to share multimedia content, and its reblogging and "like" features (which Facebook has since copied) do function intuitively.

But Coatney's success at Newsweek wasn't thanks to the distribution channel on Tumblr, it was his irreverent, conversational style — and that will be difficult for the fresh-faced interns that old-media publications don't pay to run their Tumblrs. Then there's the matter of impact. Tumblr, which is up to 1.5 billion daily page views (not unique visitors, mind you), is betting on old-media companies to bring them a bigger audience, and the company hired Coatney to smooth the way. But Coatney himself acknowledges that Newsweek's Tumblr only sent about 1,000 readers a day to the magazine's website, compared with 200,000 to 300,000 from Newsweek's Twitter feed and Facebook page.

So we have an outsize amount of hype over a flashy new technology that is basically a bunch of middle-aged journalists talking to each other? Yep, that sounds like the media industry all right.