Meet the journalist behind Tumblr's rise

October 14, 2011: 8:43 AM ET

Former Newsweek editor Mark Coatney won't take all the credit. But since he joined Tumblr and began selling the platform to other publishers, it has skyrocketed.

By Alex Kantrowitz, contributor

Mark CoatneyFORTUNE -- Mark Coatney is Tumblr's secret weapon. The former Newsweek editor moved to Tumblr in July 2010 and assumed the role of Media Evangelist. His mission? To recruit other news organizations to Tumblr and help them use it as successfully as he had. Under his watch, 240 publications have joined Tumblr, turning the platform into a legitimate source for news in addition to a place to find pictures of hipster puppies and hungover owls.

Coatney won't take all the credit. But since he joined Tumblr, the platform has skyrocketed. Over the past year, Tumblr has gone from 2 billion pageviews a month to over 13 billion and from 1 billion total posts to more than 10 billion. In late September, Tumblr announced an $85 million dollar round of financing. The round valued the company at $800 million dollars, a staggering increase from a $135 million valuation just ten months prior.

Fortune caught up with Coatney earlier this week to discuss the company's recent success, his job and what lies ahead.

How important has the presence of news organizations been to Tumblr's growth?
It's think it's very important. I think Twitter grew early on especially because famous people such as Oprah and Ashton Kutcher were on Twitter. I think Tumblr's growth has been more content driven. News, among other things such as fashion, has helped drive a use of Tumblr for people that want to publish occasionally but also use Tumblr as a primary source of information instead of going to ten different news sites. It speaks to that perhaps apocryphal quote of the 20 something guy who says "I don't seek out news, news finds me." News has become this thing that comes to you. What we're hoping to do is make Tumblr a delivery system for news that is unconscious almost. Where, if you follow the right people, you won't have to remember to go to their site because their Tumblr blog will put that great piece you wanted to read right in front of you.

Traditional media outlets make money by placing ads next to content they create. Your job is to ask them to put content on Tumblr, where they can't do that. Is that an easy sell?
It hasn't been as much of a problem because Facebook and Twitter have already been there. They've made the case that you get a lot of value out of engaging people, whether it's through referrals back or whether it's people feeling a better connection. But we all realize that whether it's a big organization or a blogger who wants to do this for a career, it's better for Tumblr if people are able to make money off the network because it helps the Tumblr ecosystem to have healthy contributors. The more we can do to figure out how to help people make money of Tumblr, the better.

Something people talk about when they refer to Tumblr is community, which is not the first word you think of when it comes to blogging platforms, how has Tumblr achieved that?
From the beginning, Tumblr was built around the dashboard. When Tumblr was founded, there was more of a thought that it was a blogging platform. But as people started to use the dashboard, they started to realize that it was built from the ground up to share stuff. The dashboard is the sharing venue. If you look in your Tumblr dashboard the primary thing is your feed of stuff and it's rendered beautifully and it's not just lines of text and links -- it really is the thing. Tumblr's dashboard, more so than other places, is the venue where you consume the information as opposed to seeing "go here to read this." This makes it a very good place to actually watch and participate.

You now have another $85 million dollars in the bank, how does that change things?
It's great to have because it allows us to think long-term, which is one of the biggest luxuries you can have. It means tomorrow the lights will come on and we can pay the bills and think about how we can make this the best thing for our users because that in turn makes it the best thing for us. It gives us the essential freedom to think about our company in a way that's best for the long-term as opposed to what's best two months down the road.

In addition to news, Tumblr has a real quirky side as well. Should Tumblr be defined as a place for news or a place for fun?
I personally think what Tumblr wants to be is the most interesting party you've ever been at. That party could have a political discussion in the kitchen or people doing keg stands in the living room, but it's all about that whole range of human expression. I don't think we want to limit ourselves and say we're primarily a news delivery platform because one of the things I've enjoyed most about Tumblr is that there's no one right way to use it.

Ok, so can you recommend a few new organizations on Tumblr worth following?
There's so many great ones, but here are eight:
Newsweek
DCDecoder
The Christian Science Monitor
National Post
The LA Times
Discovery News
Officials Say the Darndest Things (ProPublica)
NPR
ShortFormBlog

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