This report on buzzfeed caught my attention this morning; Tumblr have sent journalists to Tampa to cover the Republican National Convention.
Of the estimated thousands of journalists at the Republican National Convention, these people stand out. For one, they’re not political reporters in the traditional sense of the term. And, though this is less of a novelty than it may seem, they’re posting exclusively to Tumblr. They’re also posting for Tumblr, as part of one the site’s early forays into original journalism.
While this may seem insignificant this is a bold new move on the part of Tumblr and, to the best of my knowledge, is the first time a social network has invested in original or professional content.
What I think is most interesting is the idea of a native experience for reporting. This is not new, people on Twitter will know that a number of journalists use Twitter to report on breaking events and many news organisations have official accounts which are used in much the same way. This is reporting that is entirely native to Twitter; it happens on Twitter first in a form that is native to Twitter. The ABC, to their credit, have even employed a dedicated social media journalist. Latika Bourke, despite her critics (myself often among them), is successful in her use of Twitter for reporting. She is not retrofitting old style journalism for social media, but rather making social media the central focus of her reporting.
Twitter can also be used in a “non-native” way; that is turning to Twitter to promote and disseminate reporting that happened first on an external site (i.e. newspaper’s websites). At present, this is the most common use of Twitter. News organisations see Twitter as a way to drive users to their website where they can serve their own ads or (in the case of News Ltd.) charge admission fees to their paywalled garden.
The difference with Tumblr’s http://election.tumblr.com site is that it is itself the destination, with the “journalism” happening on the social network rather than on a external site to be promoted. This is not an abstract, academic difference, it has significant impacts on a journalist’s focus and workflow. I have already spoken about how important it is for modern journalists to place themselves at the centre of the news and journalistic ecosystem and how important it is for them to be involved in conversations. Native reporting like what Tumblr is attempting, is designed to service the communities of that platform and take full advantage of the features of that service. This reporting fits naturally into the social graph of the service.
It doesn’t seem that Twitter or Facebook are going to move towards content creation anytime soon, preferring cheaper data driven curation, but whether it is driven by the social network themselves or by external news organizations, platform native journalism could prove to be a simple but important idea.