When I think of Newsweek Magazine, I think of a dull, conservative, mainstream mag that was perhaps relevant at some point in the 1980’s. This could explain why I didn’t notice that Newsweek had become hip–or at least the blog arm of Newsweek did–until a few days ago. Newsweek upped its image when it started using Tumblr a few years ago, a move other mainstream magazines are replicating. Click on the Newsweek Tumblr and you’ll notice a surprisingly (to me) snarky left-hand sidebar, replete with witty self-referential comments like, “Or hey, visit Newsweek on the web! If you click on an ad there a wish might come true!” and, “Or follow our RSS, like a robot.” What’s happening? When did my republican father’s favorite magazine become a playground for Williamsburg-esque hipsters?
Plenty of national magazines are using Tumblr: The New Yorker, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, and more, but none of the aforementioned magazines have radically altered their aesthetic or their journalistic tone when making the shift. The Atlantic, for instance, seems to pull content from the web side of their magazine, in addition to occasionally re-blogging content from other Tumblr pages, which does beg the question: when a magazine has a print version, an online version, and a blog version, what’s the defining line between the “online magazine” and the “blog”? But there’s a striking difference between the Newsweek blog and the Newsweek website. Despite the fact that the website has the aesthetic style of a blog (a cluttered blog!), the content remains journalistic, whereas the content on the Tumblr side is chock full of miscellany–a dog playing the piano; a video of a Vietnamese lieutenant hanging onto the front of a bus, under the title OMG; a small ditty about the weekend: “Hey everybody! We hope you have a very nice weekend. Stay safe. Have fun. Don’t do anything nwktumblr wouldn’t do. And tell a friend they’re beautiful. Because they are! And so are you. We all need to share that love a bit more.”
Newsweek was on the verge of going out of business when Mark Coatney revitalized the magazine with his humorous Tumblr posts, an aesthetic that seems to be going strong today. Coatney’s statement when he left Newsweek to work for Tumblr itself was that “One of the reasons I’ve long been interested in online journalism is in the ways it can be, in a way no other medium can, a two-way communication between writer and reader; Tumblr is one of the best ways I’ve seen to accomplish that.” It’s been widely noted, and reported, that journalism today is a shifting terrain, a field that relies as much on twitter as it does on a reporter’s notepad, and so this concept, that journalism is most exciting when the writer and reader are able to directly communicate, is intriguing. I have no interest in making a statement about the state of journalism today, good or bad, but in the case of Newsweek’s blog it’s certainly becoming more casual.