After a year of trying online journalism as a side project, Tumblr has learned what so many other digital publications could have just told them: online reporting is hard.
In a very late-night news dump Tuesday on his company's official Tumblr blog, CEO David Karp announced the closing of Storyboard, the company's journalism project that reported on the best of Tumblr.
"After hundreds of stories and videos, features by publishers ranging from Time to MTV to WNYC — not to mention a nomination for a James Beard Award and entries into this year’s NY Press Club Awards — we couldn’t be happier with our team’s effort," Karp wrote. Happiness wasn't enough, apparently. "[O]ur editorial team will be closing up shop and moving on," he said. Three staffers were let go, according to a spokesperson who spoke to Betabeat.
Now-former Tumblr executive editor Jessica Bennett took to her Tumblr (naturally) to sound off about the news.
RIP TUMBLR EDITORIAL. WE PRODUCED SOME AWESOME MOTHERFUCKING SHIT / REDEFINED JOURNALISM / WON SOME AWARDS / OBSESSED OVER ONE DIRECTION / ALL THAT. IT WAS A GREAT RIDE> NOW: ANYONE WANT TO HIRE ME?
ALSO: Drunk on a plane. The only way to go out (or down?! It’s really bumpy.) Sorry for the all caps! XO
Axing Storyboard doesn't represent some larger strategic shift for Tumblr. This is a social network with 168 employees, worth maybe $1 billion as of a few months ago, based on a rumored valuation. In an interview, a vice president at Tumblr told Bloomberg News that the company expects 2013 to be its first profitable year. Getting rid of side projects is one way of cutting costs.
The move also brings Tumblr back into the fold of Silicon Valley (or in Tumblr's case, Silicon Alley). Google has always shunned creating its own content, preferring to offer the way to find news articles (through search and Google+). Yahoo reportedly is even considering killing its content business.
Facebook and Twitter have very similar storytelling projects, with writers reporting on interesting things happening in those respective networks. Yet social networks don't need to report on themselves. Most news organizations (HuffPost included) are happy to do that work.
Facebook "doesn't need reporters," a former managing editor of Facebook Stories told journalism students at Washington State University last month. Dan Fletcher, who stepped down from the position last month, said later that Facebook made a mistake in bringing him on with that title.
Still, I had never read a Storyboard article (I'm not alone), and that's regrettable: these James Beard Award-nominated video pieces on the closing of Gourmet magazine and a New York pizza parlor that stayed open during Hurricane Sandy were as good as any of the visual storytelling put out by the New York Times, The Verge or any other outlet known for that. Let's hope these journalists find new homes.