How to use Reddit in your reporting

October 8, 2019

Published with the International Journalists Network, this story is also available in Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, and other languages. 

Reddit is a space for discussion and sharing information. Journalists are trying to engage with that audience. Newsrooms including The Washington Post and USA Today use it, and while in office, President Obama even participated in a questions-and-answer session on the site called an “Ask Me Anything,” or an “AMA.”

More than 300 million users a month visit Reddit’s over 130,000 communities, or subreddits. Users, or “Redditors,” who often use pseudonyms, can find content about world newstrending memesweather updates, and much more. They can “upvote” posts favorably or “downvote” posts negatively, allowing the most popular to rise to the top.

As a journalist, it’s often useful to build a relationship with local, specific and engaged audiences. Panelists at the 2019 Online News Association (ONA) Conference in New Orleans discussed how newsrooms today are experimenting with establishing a presence on Reddit to answer questions and share their work with users.

If you’re new to Reddit, here are some tips the ONA panelists shared for using the popular platform in the newsroom:

Gathering content and engaging your audience

Reddit’s vast network of users can be an excellent source of inspiration and, in some situations, editorial content. Gabriel Sands, Reddit’s senior partnerships manager for news & journalism, highlighted the “r/politics” community, where a team at USA Today asked Redditors why they were, or were not, voting in the 2018 midterm elections. They compiled the answers they received into an editorial, along with responses they collected from Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Alexandra Ptachick, an audience editor for emerging platforms at USA Today, stressed that building productive relationships with Redditors takes time. “You never want to just start spamming your links. You have to start building a relationship with the people involved in the community,” she said.

In order to build recognition and trust on Reddit, the panelists agreed that it’s important to spend time reading subreddits to understand the tone and objectives of the different subgroups. Haley Correll, formerly an audience engagement editor for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, encouraged journalists to respond helpfully to comments and questions posted on Reddit, as opposed to just pushing their own stories and linking to their own content.

Ptachick noted that USA Today has conducted almost 1,000 AMA sessions, where Redditors can ask questions of reporters and, more importantly, the subjects of their stories. The Washington Post also hosts AMA sessions, where they try to avoid being overly promotional.

Investing the time to create these relationships can go a long way, as some posts might sustain engagement for several days, which is longer than other platforms. Redditors have at times also referenced post threads from years prior, Sands pointed out.

Tools to organize and search

“There is a lot of content on Reddit and often it can feel like one is drinking out of a firehose,” Sands said. To help view content from across different subreddits in the same place, he suggested that journalists create custom feeds.

The panelists also recommended Crowdtangle as a free way to receive notifications when your stories are shared on Reddit. This can help you and your team jump into Reddit conversations about your story in a more natural way, without having to post the links to your stories.

Crowdtangle can also be useful when searching Reddit. While the Reddit search tool can help you find communities, posts and users, you need to be specific when using it. Crowdtangle can help you find content with lists, which are collections of subreddits related to specific topics.

Reddit’s rules 

Reddit communities are built on elaborate rule systems, which are enforced by volunteer moderators who review content, Sands explained. In the news community called “r/news,” for example, the guidelines state that participants should not post opinion, analysis or political rhetoric pieces. If those types of articles are posted, volunteer moderators will remove them from the community.

Ptachick stressed that journalists should take each community’s rules seriously. If you get banned from a subreddit for violating the community’s rules, you are prevented from interacting in that group in the future.

Above all, Ptachick recommended that journalists consult the Reddit Partnerships Team when planning to use Reddit, as the team can be a valuable resource for newsrooms interested in connecting with Reddit users and communities.

Listen to the ONA On Air  podcast to hear a recording of the entire session “Reddit: The Highly-Engaging Content Source That You May Be Overlooking” at the 2019 Online News Association conference.

Natalie Van Hoozer is a journalist and program assistant with ICFJ. 

Main image CC-licensed by Unsplash via Kon Karampelas.

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