Using Reddit for Journalism: From Creating an Account to Avoiding an AMA Disaster

Reddit can be very useful for journalists, especially for sourcing potential stories and finding sources.

Created in 2005, Reddit rapidly became one of the most popular platforms on the internet. Reddit has 52 million daily active users as of 2020, according to data released by the company. About half of these users are located in the United States.

Getting Started

Reddit is made of a bunch of different subreddits, or ‘subs’. Subreddits are dedicated to a topic, community or theme, and can be made by anyone. Users post links, images, videos or text within a subreddit, and their posts are upvoted or downvoted by other users. The more upvotes, the more people will see a given post.

The URL to visit any subreddit uses this structure:

reddit.com/r/[name of subreddit here]

For example, the Los Angeles subreddit can be viewed at: https://www.reddit.com/r/losangeles

If you just go to reddit.com without creating an account, you’ll see items posted in the default subs. But to get anything out of Reddit, you’ll need to create an account and customize your account to see the subs you care about.

You can use Reddit on a computer or mobile device. This guide will walk through getting set up on a computer, but the process will be very similar if you prefer to use the app on your phone.

The first step is to create an account.

Click “Sign Up” on the Reddit homepage to start creating your account.

You’ll need to enter your email and then choose a username.

Your email will not be shown publicly. But your username will be how other users identify you.

A note on safety: don’t choose a username that anyone could use to identify you. Taking precautions to protect yourself from trolling, doxxing or worse is a must, especially for anyone facing an extra high risk of harassment.

You don’t have to be afraid of using Reddit. But its policy of letting communities self-regulate has had hugely damaging consequences. Reddit has taken some steps to reduce toxicity on the platform, including banning some of the most dangerous subreddits. But it has a long way to go. This is something you need to keep in mind.

A best practice is to never post anything that can be used to identify you personally in a public space. If you want to post more personal content, consider making two accounts: one for personal use and another where you do outreach as a journalist.

Start Joining Subreddits

Once you’ve created an account, you can begin to join subs that you find interesting or relevant to your reporting. Reddit will suggest some of the more popular options, but these are unlikely to be the most useful to you as a journalist.

Go ahead and join any of the suggested subs that may interest you. But there will be more useful ones.

Once you’ve finished the account setup process, you are ready to start joining subreddits that are more specific to your needs. A great place to start is with geographic locations: subs based on cities or towns that you cover. There should be a few suggested based on your location when you log in.

All of these communities recommended based on my location are great to follow as a reporter covering the LA area.

As a general rule, the more well-defined or smaller a subreddit community is, the more likely it is to be useful, especially as a journalist.

Make a post in r/politics, a default sub with 7.4 million members, and it’s basically guaranteed to get drowned out.

A post in r/LosAngeles, with 282,000 members, is much more likely to net meaningful responses.

r/USC has 17,600 members, making it even more likely to be a place where you can find and interact with real people.

Whenever you’re looking for story ideas or sources, try to find the most relevant subreddit possible. You’ll see people posting about things that aren’t already national or international news. You have better odds of engaging with a real person, and avoiding trolls and spam replies. Of course, if a sub is too specific or has too small of a community, it might be totally dead and not useful at all. But in general: the tighter-knit the subreddit, the more useful it can be.

Once you have joined a bunch of subreddits related to your interests or beat, you can return to Reddit any time and see what those communities are talking about. For instance, if you’re interested in the entertainment industry and want to hear what working professionals are talking about, check out r/FilmIndustryLA:

Keep looking, join lots of communities and you might be surprised to see how much information you can find. It’s not uncommon to see something that begins as a post or photo on Reddit become the basis of a local or national news story. Don’t be shy to reach out with a reply or chat (see below on how to chat individual users) if you see someone bring up something interesting!

You can also actively search for sources when you’re producing something on deadline.

Finding Sources

For example: let’s say I’m working on a story about California public schools returning to in-person learning. I want to find a teacher to interview. In addition to going through a professional organization like a teacher’s union, contacting local schools, and looking on other social media sites, I can use Reddit to try to find someone to interview.

I begin by searching for a relevant subreddit.

r/Teacher has potential… but not quite what I need.

Taking a look at r/Teacher, it looks like a good size with somewhat frequent posts. But most of the content is memes, or otherwise doesn’t seem quite right for what I need.

I can certainly create a post on the subreddit asking for people to get in touch with me for an interview. Especially if I’m not on a tight deadline, that might work well. But I’ll probably have much more luck reaching out to specific people than posting an open request. Let’s see what a search for “return to in person school” pulls up.

Aha!

I see there’s a thread in r/AskSF discussing students returning to school in San Francisco. It’s a month old, but let’s check it out.

Behold, a teacher! By clicking on their username I can see more about 37loquat50. Looking through their post history I can guess that they teach a high school science class in the Bay Area.

To begin a correspondence with my potential new source, I click the chat button below his user avatar.

Like any interview request, you need to exercise judgement and tact in reaching out. There may be any number of reasons why someone would be unwilling or unable to speak to a member of the press. By the same token, don’t be naive and assume someone is who they say they are just because they posted on a social site!

But, the upshot of finding sources through social media is that they’re more likely to be willing and able to talk to you since they’re already posting on a public forum. And you can look at their post history and other context clues as a first step in checking if they are who they say they are. If someone is posting on a new account or their posts have contradictory info about their background, those are big red flags.

You will have to start the conversation on Reddit, but as soon as possible move the conversation to email for the sake of having all your sourcing in one place and being able to include your editor on exchanges.

Another way to get in touch with potential sources is by replying to their comment in the thread where it was originally posted. Both ways have pros and cons, I suggest you experiment to find what is most effective for you.

Promoting Your Stories On Reddit

Reddit can be useful to promote your content once it’s been published… if you avoid the pitfall of coming off like a huckster.

Much like finding useful new subreddits to follow, the more closely your story relates to a community the more likely you are to be able to have meaningful engagement. If you write a piece that affects people living in Long Beach, you can absolutely post in r/LongBeach.

There’s a pretty strong tradition of dumping on brands and people trying to use Reddit for free advertising. Check out r/AMADisasters for some of these greatest-misses (note that you can sort any subreddit by its most popular posts). There are lots of exceptions to this rule, but you’re unlikely to have success promoting your article on a popular sub if you go about it the way you would post to your personal Facebook page.

That said, there is always a market for original content on Reddit. And some of the most successful examples of promoting journalism have been when the authors put their personality and experiences into it. For an example of this being done really well, check out this AMA with a group of journalists discussing a huge investigative piece on international money laundering.

Of course these rules are not set in stone. And things are always changing—Reddit is currently pushing its livestreaming video service extremely hard, so if that’s a space you’re interested in this might be a great time to start streaming on there!

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