If Tumblr 'Couldn't Be Happier' With its Journalists, Why'd it Just Fire Them All?
In a move that's sure to inspire thousands of sad-face GIF reposts, social-blogging site Tumblr declared Storyboard, its ambitious year-old editorial initiative, an unqualified success Tuesday night and immediately celebrated by shutting it down and canning its entire crew.
"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," Tumblr creator David Karp wrote on the site's staff blog around 10 p.m., adding: "What we've accomplished with Storyboard has run its course for now, and our editorial team will be closing up shop and moving on."
Why do you shutter a project in the dead of night if you "couldn't be happier" about it?
Storyboard was a splashy high-profile blog (within the Tumblr community, at least) that showcased the social media property's top-shelf original content, as well as the users who produced it. Its triumphs regularly garnered thousands of "likes" and reblogs; these included a profile of a barista who makes intricate portraits in coffee and steamed milk; a gallery of hip-hop quotes posted on the New York streets that they name-check; the insanest hand-drawn maze ever; and Donkey Kong in 17th-century Japanese prints.
This didn't seem like a term-limited experiment, certainly not to the talent Karp had poached to run it: editor-in-chief (and Gawker vet) Chris Mohney from BlackBook, along with executive editor Jessica Bennett, a Newsweek refugee. (A third editorial worker, Sky Dylan-Robbins, was also cut loose.) Bennett offered no hints to the bloodletting in her own goodbye post:
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?
So why did Storyboard die? The conventional explanation would be that it experimented with doing wonderful things that don't generate profit, and it succeeded on both counts. Yet with a crew of three, it didn't exactly demand a massive subsidy. And if Tumblr's own sunshiney sales reports are to be believed, the company was already headed toward profitability this year.
Which suggests that Karp—a 26-year-old high school dropout who's theoretically worth $200 million—could, indeed, have been happier with his editorial experiment. Tumblr's users and freshly unemployed journalists could surely be happier with him, even as they're committed to the platform he built. Late Tuesday, a user asked Mohney on the fired editor's blog: "Was it always the plan for Storyboard to only run for a year?" Mohney replied: "amusing noncontextual animated image dot gif."