Reddit embraces its role as a journalistic entity with new live-reporting feature

Some critics may see Reddit as a more restrained version of the online community 4chan — a place for nerds to talk about Star Trek or whatever the latest meme is — but the site has also become a place where new forms of journalism occur, such as the reporting on breaking news events like a shooting or the war in Syria. To help make that even easier, Reddit has launched a “live blogging”-style feature that will eventually allow anyone to function as a kind of Reddit-based news reporter.

The feature, which is still in beta, is currently being tested on two very different Reddit threads or topics: one is a kind of stereotypical Reddit discussion about a fascinating game-based sociological experiment known as “Twitch Plays Pokemon,” which involves tens of thousands of people simultaneously playing an old-fashioned Pokemon game via real-time chat.

The second beta test involves something much more serious — namely, the recent uprising in Ukraine, where dozens of people have been killed while protesting the government of Viktor Yanukovich (who recently fled the country). Using the new tool, real-time information about the demonstrations in Independence Square has been flowing into Reddit in much the same way as it would with a live-blog like The Lede at the New York Times.

Reddit live-blog Ukraine

A rough approximation of something interesting

At the moment, the feature looks fairly rough around the edges (compelling visual design is not exactly Reddit’s strong suit) and the site has acknowledged that there are a lot of elements that aren’t finished yet or haven’t been added, including the ability to comment or vote on individual entries in these live news blogs — which live apart from the rest of Reddit, but can be linked to on any Reddit thread or “sub-Reddit” that is applicable to the topic. As the site describes it:

“Liveupdate is a new type of post on reddit. The “reporters” for a stream can post updates and anyone watching gets sent those updates in real time. Unlike with self-post or comment based live updates, there’s no limit to how many updates can be posted during the course of an event.”

At the same time, however, this unfinished and somewhat chaotic approach is arguably a lot more true to the nature of online journalism now than many other more polished approaches: no one really knows how to effectively do what Reddit wants to do, which is to give anyone the same tools that journalists at mainstream media organizations have and let them dictate the outcome.

On that note, one of the most impressive aspects of what Reddit is trying to do is the back-and-forth you can see in the comments on the site’s blog post about its new feature, between one of the Reddit staffers involved in the creation of the project and users who are beta-testing it. New elements are requested and not only responded to but actually added as the discussion is evolving — how many times has that happened at an existing media outlet?

Reddit live-blog Twitchy

As the Reddit blog post notes, the live-blogging or live-reporting feature is currently only open to users who are selected by the site (who then get to decide which reports they include in their stream about an event), but the feature is expected to be rolled out to anyone, at which point the community will get to decide which are the most reliable by voting them up or down as they do with everything.

Journalism gets better when more people do it

When Reddit and journalism are mentioned in the same sentence, many people probably think of the Boston bombing fiasco, in which members of a specific sub-Reddit tried to identify the suspects in that explosion and got it terribly wrong. But as I argued at the time — despite being criticized heavily for doing so — mistakes happen in all kinds of real-time journalism, and in fact occurred at many much more traditional news outlets as well during that incident.

For me, however, the potential benefits of what Reddit brings to journalism outweigh any downside that might be illustrated by that kind of stumble. I firmly believe in what journalism professor and First Look Media advisor Jay Rosen has said, which is that “journalism gets better when more people are doing it.” Reddit has the potential to broaden that pool and bring a kind of open-source approach to news reporting, just as other tools and services like Storyful do.

Will false news reports and other noise be contributed to and/or spread by Reddit’s new approach to live news? Undoubtedly. As I’ve argued before, the reality of news now is that all the messiness and chaos that used to take place primarily inside newsrooms is now happening out in the open. That may not be as neat and tidy, but it is far more true to the way that news actually occurs, and in true open-source style, the more eyes there are on something, the more likely that errors will be noticed and corrected by those who care.

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Flickr user Jan-Arief Purwanto