Web companies discover a century-old corporate media tradition that’s always new

Poultry Tribune, July, 1942

An article by Brian Stelter in today’s New York Times (temporary non-punitive URL: http://nyti.ms/xmYt1L) reports that Tumblr is hiring editors and writers to cover itself.*

Quote from the executive editor Tumblr has hired:

“Basically, if Tumblr were a city of 42 million (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.”

According to the article, Facebook and Twitter have recently announced efforts with similar goals. In my opinion, the mother of all “reporting about ourselves” has to be, collectively, the blogs Google maintains. However, in a nuanced way, those blogs are more neo-press release, than corporate-reportage (two terms that may already exist, but I just made up).**

Two things of significance to the 12 readers of this blog about Brian’s article (Brian, by the way, is the subject of several posts on this blog.):

1. The quote from the Tumblr editor reflects precisely the kind of point-of-view of what the internet is that I explained in the blog post immediately preceding this. The internet is people and place. (Because that post is a Rexplanation, I don’t have to repeat what I mean – you can read it there.)

2. Brian’s article, while appearing to some to be about a new phenomenon, fits into a century-plus old tradition that I have constantly blogged about for the past decade: Companies serve audiences called customers. Those audiences can be passionate about the products those companies provide and can create communities surrounding those shared passions (or work-related topics in the case of business-to-business companies). Creating media to serve and tie-together those audiences is something companies have done since at least the 1890s. I have now declared a 2011 post on this topic the Rexplanation on this topic, so if interested, please go there.

In other words, as I’ve said many, many times: What Tumblr is doing is not new. It is smart, but it is not new.

*Self-serving asterisk: They should have outsourced it to a company like Hammock.

**I’m considering a longer post on the topic of what I’m going to call “the press release parenthesis” in which I will explore how the advent of public relations as a “profession” (see: Ivy Lee) ushered in a period that the internet is now ushering out during which journalists who worked for corporations that made money from selling advertising were deemed ethically and professionally superior to journalists who worked for corporations that made money from selling airplanes or paper clips.

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