INTERVIEW : JESSICA BENNETT & KATHERINE BARNA OF NEWSWEEK
These whip smart ladies are throwing the first ever Tumblr meet and greet at Ace Hotel New York tonight, with a selection of Tumblr powerhouses from various sources, including Tumblr itself, Vanity Fair, the Times and more. The meet-up is an effort to “bridge old and new medias.” We thought that was pretty interesting and decided to ask them all about it.
You work with Newsweek, and together with Flavorpill you’re throwing a meet-up this Friday at Ace Hotel New York for media folks and journalists on Tumblr “to bridge new and old media.” What inspired this event?
Jessica: I think we’ve known for some time that there’s special community on Tumblr where there are all these media outlets, all kind of boosting each other up in ways you don’t normally see in the world of NY media. But most of it is anonymous, so we wanted to find a way to a) put faces with names, and b) harness this energy. At Newsweek, Tumblr has really filled this void to reach an audience completely different from that of our website, or our magazine. Even internally, it’s been a really great example of bridging old and new media. So we wanted to bring that to another level.
Katherine: Newsweek’s space on Tumblr is very important to us as an organization, as well as for us personally, since Jess and I are the ones behind the controls of this crazy thing. So we’ve spent some time together going back and forth saying “Ok, what else can we do? How else can we get involved with the Tumblr community?” and a meetup felt right. Once we decided to do it, everything came together really quickly. Tumblr, Flavorpill, the Ace…all parties involved immediately saw the value in an event like this. And who doesn’t love a good party?
Absolutely. It’s really inspiring how a new generation of journalists are embracing social media and complicating the idea of news sort of being delivered to the masses. Now there’s more of an interaction, almost a collaboration — “making news.”
Jessica: Totally. Collaboration like this—at least between media outlets—is rare. It does kind of feel like this space where the competition has been stripped away.
Katherine: The actual, genuine support between organizations is kind of amazing. Even though media outlets on Tumblr are sometimes chided for “bombing the dashboard” with a story, there’s still something kind of terrific about seeing The Atlantic adding something to what Blackbook wrote, who are reblogging The Today Show and on and on…
Tell me about what you do at Newsweek, and what your background is, what inspires you, the kind of work you’ve done…
Jessica: I’m a senior writer here, so I write features about social trends, women, sex, and often the intersection of culture and technology.
In other words, you have a rad job.
Jessica: Ha, yes! When it’s not tormented by internal chaos, it’s fabulous. I started as an intern for Newsweek.com five years ago, back when the magazine staff was huge and the web staff was tiny. So from the beginning I’ve always had a real interest in covering issues and topics through a variety of platforms. Tumblr is really just an extension of that.
Katherine: I’ve had a very different Newsweek experience from Jess, coming in from the business side of things as Newsweek’s publicist. I think that’s actually been one of our strengths as a team — we have different ideas and viewpoints. But I actually came from a theatre background, so some of the more creative things we can do with our Tumblr really excite me.
Tell me more about how you work together at Newsweek, if at all, or if you are just friends who were inspired to create this event.
Jessica: It’s not often that reporters and PR folks get to work together on projects like this, but Katherine and I bring two really different skill sets to the table, and I think that’s what makes it work so well. We try not to cause too much of a ruckus on Tumblr, but we’re also not afraid to take risks.
Katherine: It’s important that we aren’t afraid to advocate for ourselves or each other, as well.
That’s so important.
Katherine: It probably also helped that after Mark left, we didn’t wait to see what Newsweek would do with the Tumblr, but rather just grabbed it and ran with it.
But still with the company’s blessing?
Jessica: Yes! 99 percent of the time. And it’s really attracted this whole new audience for us.
Katherine: Exactly. We’ve been incredibly lucky to work for an organization that sees the value in this, and trusts us to just go for it and not say anything too scandalous. Which…usually…we don’t.
You mentioned Mark Coatney, the creator of the Newsweek tumblr, who’s going to be joining the meet-up on Friday. How did you decide who else to invite to the table for this?
Jessica: Hmm. Well a lot of these folks we follow on Tumblr, so we know they’re blogging frequently. We knew we wanted many of the big outlets there, but we also wanted to make sure we extended this out to some nontraditional media folks whose stuff we just really like.
Katherine: What’s also really great is that after the invite for this event got out and started circulating on Tumblr, we started hearing from other organizations who don’t have a Tumblr presence, but heard about what we’re doing and are curious to find out what it’s all about.
And what will the event be like? Is there a structure or is it really just drunk blogging? Just kidding — although drunk blogging sounds really fun.
Jessica: Ha. Well, it’s no secret we Newsweekers are heavy drinkers… we’ve been through a lot these past months. But we really wanted to engage with people in a live format much like we do online.
Katherine: After months of seeing these names on our dashboard, we felt like it was time to actually get to know them in person. Plus, we’re media people. We don’t need an excuse for cocktails.
Party hats! I think meet-ups that have their origins online are so interesting because they exemplify exactly what the Internet should be — a catalyst for increasingly nuanced, intimate and interesting human interactions.
Jessica: Definitely. From here we’d love to do something a little more structured—so think of this like the Tumblr icebreaker!
Katherine: Exactly. We want to bring to life the community we’ve found on tumblr. There’s so much talent to pull from in the tumblr-pool alone; we’re kicking around a lot of ideas about what the next event will look like…but first we want to meet you guys and make sure you’re all actually as cool as we think you are!
Sounds fun. Take lots of pictures, especially of name tags and party hats.
Jessica: We definitely will. We really felt like this was the perfect meeting of minds with the Ace and Flavorpill.
Katherine: Yes! And otherwise, ya know, we’d probably be holding this in somebody’s apartment in Brooklyn.
Aw thanks. We definitely embrace social media and the power that it has — people power. It’s in concert with what brings us all to this hotel, which is a passion for the handmade and the human.
Katherine and Jessica: Yes!