Users post photos, videos, audio and text to a web page that has its own URL and can be viewed by non-Tumblr users. Those with Tumblr accounts can follow posts via their dashboard, much in the same way as a Facebook user follows a news feed of posts by friends and pages they have chosen to follow.
Tumblr's audience is young (the average user age is 24) and growing. A year ago Journalism.co.uk looked at how five news outlets were using Tumblr. This list, which is in no particular order, adds 23 innovative ways that 12 news outlets have found to use Tumblr.
The list is a combination of Tumblrs that have caught our attention at Journalism.co.uk and tips from Mark Coatney, Tumblr's media outreach director.
1. Washington Post
The Washington Post has a few Tumblr blogs. One - which is of particular interest to journalists - is the @innovations blog set up to "showcase the news organisation’s digital features and discuss the changing media landscape", according to Mashable.
Washington Post also has a Style Tumblr and a Tumblr showcasing the front pages of its print edition.
Another Washington Post project that is currently topical is The 12. Here the news outlet has recruited 12 journalism students to create a Tumblr to cover the US election. The posts are through the eyes and ears of 12 young people based in 12 of the hotly contested swing states.
"It's a really cool idea as it allows you to bring in the community in a more formal way and allows you to have reporters on the ground, even if you don't have a bureau in that state," Mark Coatney from Tumblr told Journalism.co.uk.
"It allows them to have trip wires in that state in case something does happen and get the early notice and really surface stories that you probably wouldn't see unless these people were out there doing it."
With the @innovations blog and The 12, the Washington Post has brought Tumblr into its site, integrating the blogs into the main news site.
"The nice thing about this is that it gives them the ease of use of Tumblr as a CMS, plus all the distribution of the posts and that functionality, but it also allows them to have it look and feel like a Washington Post page - because it is a Washington Post page. It has all their advertising, navigation and analytics," Coatney added.
2. The Guardian
One of the things the Guardian does particularly well, according to Coatney, is segment content into topics.
By dividing the content the Guardian does "a great job of speaking to narrower parts of its audience that are particularly resonant on Tumblr", Coatney said.
There is a main Guardian Tumblr account which pushes out content from across the news title but there are also Tumblrs around certain topics. Music is a big category on Tumblr and the outlet has created Guardian Music.
Tumblr is also very visual. Indeed half of the 70 million posts created on Tumblr every day are images of some type. Tumblrs such as Guardian Food, Guardian Art and Design and Guardian Fashion and the Tumblr the Guardian created for London Fashion Week, which was one of the outlet's first Tumblrs, all play to the Tumblr community who like to share striking images.
Guardian Food shows "beautiful objects of food and that is a thing that people like to share on Tumblr, it engages the audience on that level", Coatney said.
The other thing the Guardian does well, according to Coatney, is using the Tumblr API for specific projects.
"When people start a blog they think of them as lasting to the end of time. What the Guardian has done really well is think of it as a very specific, disposable project-based thing."
The first time they did this was to provide live coverage of technology festival South by Southwest (SXSW). (There is an explainer post on the Guardian Developer Blog.) Coatney said: "Each Guardian reporter at SXSW created a Tumblr blog, which they could update from their iPhone or Android phone, and then they used the Tumblr API to pull those posts from the seven blogs back to the main Guardian website as a way to collect all the reporting and then give it back to Guardian readers in a central space on their site. When SXSW was finished they ended the blog."
3. The Daily
iPad-only title The Daily uses its Tumblr as an "entry point" to its content, according to Coatney. It offers a "taster" of the site with the hope of turning some Tumblr followers into paying subscribers.
"The Daily's Tumblr is one of the only places online where you can get a preview of the stories and sample them and decide to become a subscriber," Coatney said.
4. The Times
The Times launched an "experimental" Opinions Tumblr page in June to showcase some of its columnists.
It also appears to be adding behind-the-scenes content and additional material, such as a front page of the newspaper in 1948 as the last London Olympics opened.
As with The Daily, The Times' Tumblr could encourage new subscribers to the paywalled site. It gives readers a chance to try before they buy, according to Coatney.
"You can leaf through The Times on the newsstand and decide you want to buy it, but it's a little bit harder online with that very hard paywall to provide entry points and provide people with previews of what is going on. Tumblr as a little bit of that newsstand experience," he added
But although the Tumblr Opinions page, which was launched just six weeks ago, has a "subscribe" button and link to the sign-up page, this is not its sole function or the reason it was set up, the Tumblr's creator James Dean said.
Dean, who is the online opinion editor at The Times, told Journalism.co.uk the Tumblr blog is "meant to give a flavour of what we do".
"We have some big name columnists working for us with really interesting views."
As Tumblr is a hybrid blogging platform and social network, Dean thought that the opinion writers could "extend a little bit past their tweets, which are limited to 140 characters, and post these short snippets on Tumblr".
"They are on Twitter, they are very active, they have a good number of followers, they are very good at engaging with other people so it was a small step to go to Tumblr."
5. New York Times
The New York Times' first Tumblr blog was T Magazine, and like the Guardian it took a segment and built a Tumblr around that content.
A more recent addition, which launched in February, is the New York Times archive of photos. The New York Times' The Lively Morgue Tumblr utilises the visual nature of Tumblr. It not only allows users to explore the Grey Lady's archive, but has made the really smart move of selling prints via the Tumblr for $169 a pop.
Neither of the Tumblrs are built into the template of the news site as the Washington Post has chosen to do with some of its Tumblrs, as those behind them wanted to have full screen images on a clean Tumblr backdrop, Coatney explained.
NME uses its Tumblr to highlight a handful of key pieces. Unlike other titles which have opted to segment content, NME puts a selection of the "best things posted during the day on NME.com, whether it is video, photo, news or blogs", Luke Lewis, editor, NME.com told Journalism.co.uk.
NME is still in the "early stages" of how they use Tumblr and they are "experimenting to find out what works".
At present the music title selects the photos, videos, playlists and the links to SoundCloud audio which they think will get the most "social buzz".
The Economist has been on Tumblr for a couple of years. It picks Tumblr-friendly content, posting charts, videos, cartoons, quotes and covers of the title.
The title set up its Tumblr within a day of speaking to Coatney, buying a $10 template from Tumblr's theme garden and experimenting.
Life magazine uses Tumblr as a way of showing off some of the 15 million photos in its archive, according to Coatney.
"They really want people to look at their photos but 15 million is an incomprehensible, daunting number. So what they do with Tumblr is they look for certain news pegs every day, find photos from their archive that are relevant and resonate with what is going on during the day and use that to bring you back in to their rich history."
According to Life's Tumblr the platform "provides an additional outlet for Life.com editors to show off the best and newest features ... from the iconic archives to the unpublished outtakes you've never seen".
"More importantly, it's about engaging with readers, walking in step with a community that shares our love of photography and enjoys conversing through images."
Newsweek was one of the first news outlets to use Tumblr. Indeed Mark Coatney, who set it up, was hired by Tumblr after doing such a stand-out job. And Tumblr has since recruited another Newsweeker too.
Newsweek uses its Tumblr to give a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the newsroom, as a way of crowdsourcing and looking for interviewees, to promote reader chats and to showcase a few front pages from its archives.
NPR has a Tumblr (one of the curators is Andy Carvin who gathered much attention for verifying social media reports on the Arab Spring), plus there are Tumblr blogs for several of the news shows broadcast on the various public service radio stations in the network.
Examples include Fresh Air and Radiolab. "Radio news programmes are really good on Tumblr," Coatney said, drawing in audiences and encouraging them to engage across platforms.
Reuters understands that photos do well on Tumblr. On the Reuters Tumblr the news agency uses images with impact coupled with 100-word stories. It recognises that most Tumblr readers want to stay within Tumblr and not click through to another site so the posts give just enough information to tell the story, but tempt those who want to find out more through to the main Reuters site.
12. National Post
Canada's National Post is long-established on Tumblr. It uses the platform to showcase "a daily selection" of its best art and design. The blog provides a great way of keeping an eye on the strong infographics produced by the title.
Have we missed a particularly innovative use of Tumblr by a news outlet? Add a link in the comments space below.
- For more on Tumblr listen to this podcast on Tumblr lessons from The Times and NME, featuring Mark Coatney from Tumblr, Luke Lewis from NME.com and James Dean from The Times.
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