We asked Sentinel Digital intern Eric Brown to write up his thoughts on Reddit and its possibilities for news organizations, specifically the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Here’s his thoughtful response (which isn’t exactly three ways news organizations can benefit from Reddit):
Breaking down Reddit and its use to the Sentinel
This is just a preliminary look into what exactly Reddit is, how its community functions, and how exactly a local news organization (specifically the Sentinel) can utilize the site.
The recent social media boom has benefited the world in lots of ways that are more serious than simply connecting with old friends. Sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr have been particularly useful to journalists when it comes to both sharing their work and sourcing new stories. This latter element is one that can tend to be overlooked by reporters who are just gaining their Twitter sea legs. Sure, social networking is a great way to get out the word about the new column you wrote, but it’s also a fantastic way to find people close to a topic or story who may otherwise have been hidden. Even if someone on Twitter or Facebook isn’t directly connected to a story they can provide useful opinions that can drive a story to new places through conversation.
That’s where the social networking site Reddit comes into play. When compared to Twitter, Reddit is a much more insular place, driven by casual anonymous interactions that rely on a significant amount of assumed respect. Reddit is comprised of message boards (called subreddits) where people still use screen names and pseudonyms to discuss their points. Subreddits can range from serious (r/politics) to nerdy (r/starwars) to flatly obscene (there are a plethora of niched porn subreddits). But what each subreddit has in common is that its moderators and members are dedicated to whatever specialized topic they may be covering. Some of the communities are large and some are small, but they all feature people with a common interest posting topical stories, videos, and pictures and then commenting about these pieces of media. Reddit uses a system of upvotes and downvotes so that the most popular posts and the most popular comments on those posts rise to the top. The site tries to emphasizes that the voting shouldn’t be based on whether readers agree – instead it should be based on the legitimacy or insight that is held by the post’s argument. On more serious subreddits like r/economics this can lead to some very thorough academic discourse.
So where does a local paper like the Sentinel fit into Reddit’s vision? The short answer is that it doesn’t, at least not in the way publications have come to conceive other social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. Reddit is all about community and user driven discussion, so it is frowned upon if users repeatedly push their own content for commercial purposes. A newspaper trying to spread its stories through Reddit would be viewed with disdain by Redditors; in fact, some publications, notably The Atlantic, have been banned from Reddit after their writers tried to push their own articles. If someone posts a song they made to r/hiphopheads requesting feedback it is viewed as genuine crowdsourcing, but any amount of self-promotion (that isn’t looking for a critique or genuine discussion) is viewed negatively. Even Reddit itself has put out announcements cautioning against spamming subreddits with your own material, unless you want to get feedback, start a discussion, etc.
It would be unwise for the Sentinel to have a “scsentinel” Reddit account, because even if it wasn’t sacked immediately it wouldn’t be viewed favorably by most Redditors. However, Reddit can still serve the paper. If reporters at the Sentinel have accounts and go on the various Santa Cruz subreddits (including r/SantaCruz, r/santacruzlocals, r/scsurf, r/UCSC, r/CSUMB, r/MontereyBay) they will be able to accomplish a lot by listening to Redditors. Self-identifying as reporters could even be smart, in the context of “Hey, this topic is really interesting, I’m a reporter at the Sentinel – could we talk more about this?” Reddit is used primarily by young college students and professionals, so as the site continues to grow it could be a really valuable source in tapping into these demographics and becoming involved in local conversations that might be hard to access or understand from an office cubicle.