[read Part I for a detailed introduction to the reddit platform]
There are at least three ways that reddit can help you professionally: Information gathering, analysis, and promotion.
Subscribe to subreddits related to the locations, people, professions, industries and everything else that you cover. Read the top posts of all time / of the year / of the month to get caught up on the major developments. Post questions to appropriate subreddits to get the community to fill in your knowledge gaps. Don’t be afraid to ask respondents for sources and don’t be shy with follow-up questions.
Breaking Developments / New Leads
On a popular subreddit, reading what’s hot or what’s new/rising will keep you ahead of most media outlets.
Note the date of source material that’s being posted, though. You don’t want to accidently mistake a newly submitted story that was published in 2011 as something fresh and new. Remember: new to reddit doesn’t always mean new to the world. Often the community will self-police and identify the content as stale, but as a reporter, you need to be extra vigilant.
Occasionally in the title or comment section of a post, people will self-identify as having a connection to the story in question. (e.g., “Hey, this is a story about my roommate”). Click on the username, send a private message to the poster, and try to make connection.
Use your normal due diligence to figure out if the person is a legitimate source, and go from there.
Reddit comments can be counted on to both lampoon and further a discussion. Often times, in the comment section of an article, redditors will share links to more reliable and detailed sources. They’ll point out flawed analysis in articles, and basically use the full weight of internet cynicism to tear apart and distill any post to its essential facts.
Participate in these discussion, and challenge the community to investigate or explain things that don’t sound right, or need further exploration.
In some threads people will self-identify as experts—professionals in whatever field of study happens to be at issue. Reach out to these people through reddit, and get them to contact you. You will, of course, have to vet them as you would any unknown person claiming expertise.
Once their credentials are established, you have yourself not just an expert, but an expert who is interested in exactly the same lead that you are.
You don’t have to wait for an expert to fall into your lap. You can go to the subreddits that attract the sort of specialists you need. There are subreddits for doctors, lawyers, scientists of all kinds (check out reddit.com/r/askscience), and virtually anyone else you could need. Go there, and announce that you need to talk to an expert about whatever breaking news is happening. You will surely find someone eager to help out and see their name in print.
Once again, establishing the validity of their credentials is a critical part of your job here. Take no one at their word, especially on reddit.
Reddit loves a mystery, and if you give them one, you may be rewarded. Often times, redditors will pick apart a popular news story and expose inconsistencies, suspicious absences, and half-truths. At the very least, redditors may provide you with the questions that need answering in order to get to the heart of a good story. It’s as simple as reading the comment threads and making a note when someone raises an interesting point.
You can also task reddit by submitting a good question. See where you can get with a post like:
“I’m looking for the DOT workers who closed the bridge during ‘bridgegate’… anyone know someone in NJ DOT? Would the DOT even be responsible for that, or would it be someone else?”
“Hi /r/newjersey. Does anyone know what caused the chemical smell in the air this morning?”
If you work for AL.com, you can build your fan base by going to reddit.com/alabama and submitting a post like, “I’m a reporter who is covering the crawfish scandal. AMA.”
IMPORTANT SIDENOTE: “AMA” is reddit shorthand for “Ask Me Anything”
You can do this every so often when you have an interesting story to share. “I’m journalist covering the heat wave. Share your stories and AMA!”
In the optional text section of the post, point people to your twitter or Facebook pages. Link them to articles you’ve written. Invite them to follow you online.
reddit doesn’t mind people or companies promoting themselves, as long as you are being transparent about it. This bears repeating: transparency is mandatory.
Blatant self-promotion in the form of an AMA as outlined above is a fairly well established and accepted behavior on reddit. reddit may even be welcoming to reporters who simply post a link to their own stories, even if it is done with a disclaimer like “Hey, I wrote this article about land sharks, and I thought you guys might like it”.
One of the best things you can do is promote stories from your paper that you didn’t write: “My colleague at NOLA.com just wrote an amazing piece about corruption in elementary schools, thought you would get a kick out of it”.
Do not attempt to promote yourself or your new organization without full disclosure of who you are and which organization you’re affiliated with. redditors hate feeling that they are being manipulated, and they are incredibly adept at unmasking stealth promotion. This generally ends badly for all involved.
Last thoughts on reddit for reporters:
reddit is a glimpse into the future of the internet. It is a place where people congregate around ideas. Individuals don’t matter. What matters is what is being said. Each comment and post thrives or dies on merit alone.
The reddit community can focus hundreds, even thousands of minds on a single problem at once. It’s solved in hours puzzles that were designed to take weeks. It has raised enormous sums of money for charities. It has launched careers and companies.
There isn’t a person alive that can’t benefit both personally and professionally from being a member of the reddit community. Do not “lurk” on reddit. Get an account. Join the conversation.
Lastly, I urge you to congregate in a subreddit for reporters, to share your stories, tips, tools-of-the-trade, your knowledge and support with one another. See reddit.com/r/journalism and join the community of over 5,000 people with an interest in the industry and practice of journalism. That’s as good a place to start as any.
See you in the threads.