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Why journalists should flock to Reddit

World News Publishing Focus

World News Publishing Focus
Your Guide to the Changing Media Landscape

Why journalists should flock to Reddit

a “boot camp” for journalists

Reddit is a great training tool for writers because unlike on Facebook and Twitter, users cannot lean on their followers and friends to make their posts successful. Instead, each post’s quality of writing and message is individually evaluated. Each post has an equal likelihood of making it to the site’s front page at its genesis, regardless of its author. Thus large follower bases aren’t rewarded, as they would be on Twitter and Facebook. What’s instead rewarded is concise and witty writing, the length of “half-tweets” — the same skills vital for writing headlines, which in the digital era are more important than ever. And with the deluge of posts on the site (last month there were over 55 million unique Redditors), users must hone these skills for their writing to make the front page.

For this reason, Reddit is like “boot camp” for journalists, Boston Globe correspondent Dan Adams told Poynter: “A funny or relevant one-sentence post can get upvoted and seen by thousands of people. An overwrought treatise can get downvoted and lost in the wall of text — unless it’s really, really good. Writing for such a capricious audience makes you efficient with your prose and deft at accounting for the perspective of your readers before you publish.”

a gold mine for story ideas

Reddit is overflowing with information — and while some of it may not be useful or accurate, what’s “upvoted” is at least interesting. Topics that rise to the top of Reddit threads are likely to be the same ones that could develop into top-read news stories. Moreover, the voting system makes finding potential stories much easier than doing so on Craigslist and Twitter, where posts are filtered by time rather than relevance.

Not only can journalists find human interest feature scoops on the site but also hard news. According to Poynter, Adams’ article about local credit card fraud was inspired by a Reddit post, marking just one of “many times” he’s used the site for story ideas.

“[Redditors] may not be demographically representative of Boston as a whole,” he told Poynter, “but it’s amazing how many trends and stories start there, then percolate to the mainstream media a few days or weeks later.”

a community that newspapers lack

Redditors beat journalists in reporting some news of the summer 2012 shootings in Aurora, Colorado, and Toronto, Canada because of the magnitude and environment of the Reddit community. The site promotes conversation and sharing, which were essential for compiling details about the shootings. Users shared the tiny fragments of information they each had, from first-hand accounts to tweets and news clips, and combined them into coherent timelines and narratives, the same way a journalist might after interviewing dozens of sources.

With Reddit, journalists did not have to scour Twitter and Facebook for relevant sources. Redditors did the heavy lifting for them by upvoting the most relevant information and sources to the top of centralized threads, which dramatically reduced the amount of time journalists would have to search for witnesses on other social networking sites.

“What’s unique about Reddit is that there are so many people that you will almost always have an expert on everything, although the chances of them showing up are random,” Reddit user themysetriousdoor told Daily Dot. “Think of it as a giant spider web with a colony of spiders, whenever there is a vibration, tons of spiders jump to the source and give their input. World wide web at its best.”

ProPublica has begun making use of the unique Reddit community by creating a subreddit where users can contribute story ideas, reported. Senior Engagement Editor Amanda Zamora told Nieman Lab that she hopes other newspapers will also make use of the subreddit to find story ideas.

...but not a newspaper

While Reddit was one of the first places that information about the Aurora and Toronto shootings emerged, Redditors aren’t about to replace journalists, primarily because they aren’t paid — and their work shows it, as Michael Barthel wrote. Reddit will never be a “public newsroom,” as Daily Dot reported, but rather “a hope for news,” a supplement, as David Weinberger suggested. This is chiefly because Reddit is held to different standards than any other news organization.

For instance, rather than calling and verifying information, user “Bitchslappedbylogic” compiled the narrative of the Toronto shooting purely from tweets. That’s not to discount the work — Jesse Brown called it “the most riveting piece of journalism I’ve read in recent memory.” But Barthel said that if more reporting were done this way, it would be a “disservice” to readers. He said that an obituary based purely off social media profiles would be inaccurate because the person’s death changes everything that precedes it.

Barthel noted that for all the accurate, exclusively reported scoop on the Aurora Reddit thread, there were just as many blunders: misreported names and numbers of victims, inaccurate motives of the shootings and even kitten pictures. True, other news organizations, such as ABC, made grave errors in their Aurora reporting, as Mathew Ingram noted. But on Reddit, those sorts of errors are tolerated. Redditors do indeed fact check their information — they edit one another’s comments and strike through inaccurate information after it’s posted — but speed seems to be emphasized rather than accuracy.

“People will put up with minor inaccuracies because they know someone will call them out and change it,” Morgan Jones, the 18-year-old who compiled the Aurora timeline on Reddit, told GigaOm.

When Bitchslappedbylogic beat Toronto Star in reporting about the shooting, the Star’s editor responded that the newspaper was aware of the Redditor’s coverage but that “much of what was published in the Reddit post is not publishable in the Star, given our current journalistic standards.”

So while Reddit won’t be a replacement for traditional media, as Ingram wrote, news publishers can — and should — learn from it.


Kira Witkin


2013-04-04 11:29

Author information

The World Editors Forum is the organisation within the World Association of Newspapers devoted to newspaper editors worldwide. The Editors Weblog (, launched in January 2004, is a WEF initiative designed to facilitate the diffusion of information relevant to newspapers and their editors.

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