Reddit or Not

The best, and worst, ways to use Reddit for local journalism

If your news team is just using Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, it is missing out on a platform that often produces unique story ideas: Reddit.

As of 2017, Reddit had 330 million average monthly users — which Social Media Today says puts it on par with Twitter. But Reddit is not your typical digital platform.

“Reddit is really like a cocktail party. Journalists need to consider themselves to be folks that are arriving at that cocktail party after it’s already begun, and therefore they should consider how they would act appropriately if they were in that circumstance in real life,” said Gabriel Sands, the senior partnerships manager for news and journalism on Reddit.

Jeremy Jojola is an investigative journalist and long-time Reddit user; he has experienced this first-hand. He works for 9NEWS, the TEGNA-owned NBC affiliate in Denver, Colorado. He says being a Reddit user is a commitment — it is not a place for a quick Q&A.

Jeremy Jojola conducting an interview

“[Journalists] can’t just…swoop in and take content…because over time your reputation online will diminish,” Jojola said. “If journalists are going to be using Reddit, they have to be a genuine part of the community.”

Sands says Reddit can be a very helpful tool for local journalists, and Jojola agrees. Jojola has garnered many story ideas from the Denver subreddit — a place where people, usually residents, talk about all things Denver.

When he’s not gathering story ideas, he’s participating and sharing stories he thinks those users will appreciate.

Nice to see my LoDo neighbors on this fine Sunday morning from r/Denver

His reputation as a user and a journalist has been noticed by the community, and he now gets tagged in posts that he eventually turns into stories.

“About two weeks ago…someone posted this image of a strange-looking speeding ticket in the Denver subreddit…and I was tagged in the post by a one or two different people in the thread saying, ‘Hey, this is something TripleJDude (Jojola’s Reddit username) might find interesting.’”

Screenshot from Reddit post

He then did a day-turn story about the ticket for the 6 p.m. news, explicitly crediting Reddit both over the broadcasted news report and in the accompanying article online.

Jojola learned that the traffic ticket had been issued by a security guard, rather than a police officer, on private property. And that the payment wasn’t enforceable under state law.

Jojola knows better than to tease the Reddit users that they could find out the answer behind the speeding ticket by watching the evening news, so he posted what he found on Reddit.

Screenshot from Reddit post

Unlike Facebook or Twitter, where you can just post: “Hey, I’m looking for X…” Reddit is a space full of close-knit communities that can “upvote” or “downvote” your content. The more upvotes a post gets, the more likely it will be seen…and vice versa.

“One of the issues I see a lot is…other media outlets…have created Reddit accounts and they’ve posted into that community with the clear intention of just getting traffic to their articles,” Jojola said. “The users in that subreddit see right through that, and those users won’t really upvote the posts, or they’ll really slam on it.”

In other words: Self-promotion is a big ‘no.’

But for journalist Trevor Ault, valuable exposure can still happen on Reddit, just not in the traditional way. Ault used to work at CBS-affiliated KOIN6 in Portland, Oregon, owned by Nexstar Media Group. He now is a correspondent for ABC News.

Trevor Ault

His friend posted a compilation video on Reddit of Ault fooling around on the KOIN6 set, and that was enough for him to go viral — with half a million views.

“I was able to get this traction on Reddit…because the video wasn’t posted by me, it was posted by my friend,” Ault said.

As a result, users wanted to learn more about the man behind the video. They asked him to do an “Ask Me Anything” or AMA — an interview-like process between Ault and anyone on Reddit who wants to post a question for him to answer. Ault says AMAs are usually done by celebrities, prominent people, or normal people with interesting experiences or lives. Sands says this is the best way for news outlets to start out on Reddit.

Screenshot of Reddit AMA post

“That is how you will get on the right foot and how you will really start to get a sense of what Reddit is all about — which is by and large a place that people are coming to have discussions with each other about things that are interesting or important to them.”

Both Ault and Jojola are using Reddit on their own — there are no universal guidelines they are following — just etiquette they’ve learned over time. As manager of news partnerships, Sands and his partner Anna Kim want to create those universal guidelines, and offer to work with journalists and news outlets to help them get acquainted with Reddit and use the platform efficiently.

They offer Press and Broadcasting guidelines to help journalists use Reddit. They also provide “how to’s” and define Reddit terminology.

Since being hired to ABC News, Ault doesn’t go to local subreddits anymore — but the platform remains useful.

“It’s a good way to check the pulse of the public,” he said. “To get a gauge on what regular people and what regular viewers might be thinking.”

Sands says the key to success on Reddit is to primarily listen, and contribute sometimes, to the overall conversation. The key to failure: “Hijacking the conversation.”

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