Sarah Wrote That

Using Tumblr as a Lit Journal CMS

This week, after two years and three issues, I handed off UMass’s Route 9 to to new editors. We started in 2009 on WordPress, but after two issues I decided we were best not just having a Tumblr but being a Tumblr. The potential for pieces to be reblogged or featured was appealing, of course, but my main reasons were practical: run entirely by MFA candidates, the journal, if it continues to thrive, will be handed off every several years. Tumblr frees future editors from also having to be server admins, while allowing customization that would otherwise require managing (and paying for hosting) our own CMS.

I wanted a homepage carousel so we could rotate pieces from the current issue, or from past issues when on hiatus. While in most Tumblr themes, every index page, whether the homepage, first page of a search, ‘/tagged/poetry,’ or ‘/page/10,’ has the same layout, blog-style, Tumblr’s custom theme variables elegantly embed database calls in HTML markup, making it straightforward to vary layout based on what’s getting displayed.

For our carousel, placing splash elements within a <div> with display set to none, and setting the hiding div to load only where there are previous pages, and on tag and search pages, results in the splash elements displaying only where the hiding div doesn’t—on the homepage.

Slideshows, sliders, and carousels can be added with one of many free jQuery plugins. Setting their images, text, and links as Tumblr custom text makes them accessible from the Customize theme screen so they can be updated as easily as setting a Disqus ID or changing theme colors—no subsequent coding needed beyond copying and pasting URLs.

HTML for Writers 
To get around Microsoft Word’s famously un-web-friendly formatting, we paste from TextEdit—particularly important for poems, where pasting from Word makes each line its own paragraph instead of ending lines with a


and stanzas with a


For photo captions, we use


to make text small. (I’d love to see Tumblr include that as a menu-bar option along with bold, italics, and strikethrough, but it’s easy enough to add by hand).

Bios, set as


get their own formatting (set in CSS) on posts viewed on the site, but on the Tumblr dashboard h4 simply shows up as standard text.

Simple = Safe
Designing Tumblrs, you’re always designing for both your own theme and the dashboard. The dashboard steers you toward a relatively simple palette, restraining the intricacies that are the bane of many a CMS locked into what made sense under deadlines long forgotten to designers who’ve long since moved on. However beautiful a design may be, however robust an architectures, people need to use—and want to use—it. Tumblr is extraordinary in that regard—and not just for Tumblrs.

  1. sarahwrotethat posted this