May 19, 2024

Tumblr to End Storyboard

The company did not give much explanation for why it decided to close the site suddenly and dismiss a skeletal staff of three. When the blog opened, it garnered a lot of attention for its innovative approach to storytelling.

In a blog post, David Karp, the company’s co-founder, praised the site’s achievements and then said simply: “What we’ve accomplished with Storyboard has run its course for now, and our editorial team will be closing up shop and moving on.”

Susan Etlinger, an industry analyst with the research firm Altimeter, based in San Mateo, Calif., offered one common theory. “Tumblr has taken in a lot of money and is trying to get to profitability this year,” she said. “They are looking to cut anything that does not contribute to the bottom line. I think it may be as simple as that.”

The significance of the decision was being debated online Wednesday because Tumblr was not alone among social media sites in producing its own newslike content, often with experienced journalists.

In 2011, Flipboard hired the former Time executive Josh Quittner as editorial director. The same year the professional networking site LinkedIn hired Daniel Roth, the head of, to run its editorial operations.

But not all of the experiments have been successful. For example, in January 2012, Facebook hired a recent journalism school graduate, Dan Fletcher, to be its managing editor. Mr. Fletcher’s rather amorphous job seemed to be to write stories about trends on Facebook. Last month, he announced he was leaving. He said that Facebook did not need reporters and that articles detracted from activity on Facebook, which he said was inherently more interesting.

Where onlookers stood on the seriousness of the loss of Storyboard depended on whether they believed that it was a legitimate outlet in the first place or merely a failed marketing experiment.

While Storyboard’s staff insisted that they were doing high-quality feature journalism, they were not shy in admitting that it was in service of promoting Tumblr. In an interview last December, on the online news site Capital, which covers New York, Storyboard’s editor in chief, Chris Mohney, said, “What we’re doing is marketing as journalism.”

But marketing as journalism was not also seen as a fit for the social media site.

“Tumblr’s Storyboard and editorial operation never made any sense to me. Guess I am not the only one,” Charlie Warzel, deputy technology editor at, an online news site that has its own reporters but also has content sponsored by advertisers, wrote in a Twitter post.

In a phone interview, he added, “It is always peculiar when a social network branches out into publishing, it just seems odd to bring on even excellent editorial talent to cover what is already going on organically.”

The demise of Storyboard seemed to be taken hardest by other online journalists. Tumblr had not hired marketing people but journalists from more traditional outlets to run Storyboard. Jessica Bennett, Storyboard’s executive editor, had previously been at Newsweek/ The Daily Beast.

Her social media posts indicate that she was outside New York when Tumbr made its decision and that she was surprised by it. Ms. Bennett declined to be interviewed for this article.

Ms. Etlinger said she appreciated that journalists were disappointed but said that online news was still in a very experimental stage.

“I think we are going to see a lot of failed experiments before we see a form of journalism that makes money online,” Ms. Etlinger said.

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Media Decoder: The Atlantic Apologizes for Scientology Ad

The Atlantic on Tuesday issued a simple three-word apology for publishing an advertisement by the Church of Scientology that resembled a normal article from the acclaimed magazine: “We screwed up.”

The Web page, published around lunchtime on Monday, was labeled as “sponsor content,” but otherwise looked like a sunny blog post about the church’s expansion. The page was titled “David Miscavige Leads Scientology to Milestone Year.” It was noticed by reporters at other news organizations on Monday evening and was stripped from The Atlantic’s site by midnight.

“It shouldn’t have taken a wave of constructive criticism — but it has — to alert us that we’ve made a mistake, possibly several mistakes,” The Atlantic said in a statement. “We now realize that as we explored new forms of digital advertising, we failed to update the policies that must govern the decisions we make along the way.”

In other words: The Web site published Scientology’s ad without considering all the consequences.

The Atlantic is far from the only digital publisher pitching advertisers on what is known as sponsored content. Gawker and BuzzFeed are among the other Web sites that have gained attention for the practice, which places an advertiser’s words and visuals (the content) within the frame of the site. The Huffington Post has a whole section front for sponsored content.

But no instance of sponsored content has come under as much criticism as this one. Gawker called the sponsored Web page “bizarre, blatant propaganda for Scientology.” Others raised questions about why all the comments on the page were supportive of the church, indicating that critical comments were being deleted. A spokeswoman for The Atlantic said that the comments were moderated by its marketing team, not by the editorial team that moderates comments on normal articles.

At the same time, others defended the arrangement as a smart business move. The church’s ad buy comes at a time when it is trying to blunt the impact of a new book about the secretive religion by Lawrence Wright, “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief.” The book will be published on Thursday.

On the same day, the NBC newsmagazine “Rock Center with Brian Williams” will broadcast an interview with the writer and director Paul Haggis, described by the network as “the most famous Scientologist to leave Scientology and speak out against it.”

The Atlantic said on Tuesday that it deleted the Scientology ad “until we figure all of this out,” meaning the policies that govern sponsored content.

“It’s safe to say that we are thinking a lot more about these policies after running this ad than we did beforehand,” the magazine said.

The magazine indicated that it was not backing away from sponsored content altogether, far from it: “We remain committed to and enthusiastic about innovation in digital advertising, but acknowledge — sheepishly — that we got ahead of ourselves.” The statement concluded, ”We are sorry, and we’re working very hard to put things right.”

The Atlantic spokeswoman said that the handling of comments on sponsored content is one of the issues it is going to review.

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Media Outlets Walk Fine Line in 9/11 Anniversary Coverage

But in documenting the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, there is a fine line between commemoration and exploitation.

Mindful of this, television networks, magazines and others planning special coverage of the anniversary have weighed issues like how much American audiences can stomach, and how much such a solemn occasion should be viewed as a business opportunity.

There are no uniform answers, and media outlets are approaching it differently. Time magazine is running no ads at all. Newsweek and People have sold ads just as they would for any other issue. Cable channels, which are devoting big blocks of their schedules to Sept. 11-related programming, are also largely running commercials as usual. But there exceptions; CNN, for example, is to show a joint HBO-Time special commercial free. In its regular Sunday edition on Sept. 11, The New York Times is publishing a special section that will contain only commemorative ads.

“There’s no precedent for something like this,” said Lawrence C. Burstein, the publisher of New York magazine, who added that he initially did not expect to sell many ads in the 10th anniversary issue. But to his surprise, he found that advertiser demand was strong, with the magazine experiencing a 46 percent increase in the number of ad pages in the Sept. 5-12 double issue, compared with the Sept. 13 issue last year.

He and the New York sales and editorial team decided to forgo the typical promotional campaign employed for special issues and gave advertisers who had already bought space in the magazine the option of bowing out.

“It is something that touches people in all kinds of different personal ways,” Mr. Burstein said, “and I felt like it was a decision that the advertiser had to make.”

There are few publications or television channels that are not tackling the issue. The Military Channel will explore why the Pentagon sustained far less damage than the Twin Towers. Animal Planet will run a special episode of the series “Saved,” about survivors of the attacks whose “unique bonds with their pets helped them deal with loss and cope through pain,” according to the show’s promotional materials.

Showtime will broadcast “The Love We Make,” about Paul McCartney’s efforts to organize a benefit concert. CNN is planning four separate documentaries. Fox News is showing a documentary about the construction of the Freedom Tower.

The National Geographic Channel, which is partly owned by the News Corporation, secured one of the biggest coups of the season — its exclusive interview with George W. Bush, the president when the attacks occurred. They wanted to get ahead of the avalanche of coverage and decided to show the interview on Aug. 28.

The interview, heavily promoted on other News Corporation channels including Fox News, was secured with the help of a producer, Peter Schnall, who headed a number of behind-the-scenes programs about the White House while Mr. Bush was in office.

By chance, the scheduled two-day interview began the day after American forces killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. Michael Cascio, the senior vice president for production at the National Geographic Channel, said Mr. Bush and his associates had placed no restrictions on the interview.

Mr. Cascio has wondered whether the week of programming his network has planned is sufficient. “Given its magnitude — it is the singular event in our lifetime, in the last 50 years,” he said, “we decided a week almost isn’t enough.”

The National Geographic Channel has scheduled a marathon of related coverage on Sept. 11.

Other outlets also decided to try to get out ahead of the pack. Adam Moss, the editor of New York magazine, decided its issue — an A to Z compendium of Sept. 11-related vignettes — should be published well ahead of the 10th anniversary so it would reach readers before the onslaught of coverage began.

“I’m sure, inevitably, people will feel it’s too much and shut down at some point,” he said. “We just hoped we could get what we feel is a pretty good issue out there before others did.”

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