By Ronan O’Beirne
I spend an unhealthy amount of time on Reddit. It’s my go-to for funny stories that might be made up, graphs and discussion about hockey and pictures of train stations. (And the gifs. My God, the gifs.) I don’t go there for news, but sometimes I’ll see something on /r/worldnews that wouldn’t otherwise have crept into my regular browsing or Twitter feed, and that’s good.
Lots of Redditors use the site for exactly that purpose: to read and spread news. It’s like Twitter, if Twitter’s user interface were more awful. So it makes sense that the people who run Reddit are trying to encourage this use of the site by rolling out a breaking-news tool that allows a stream’s reporters to “post updates and anyone watching gets sent those updates in real time.” As he often does, Mathew Ingram of Gigaom has a good analysis of the tool’s implications for Reddit.
But not everyone is fond of the new feature, aptly named liveupdate.
Ingram got into a wee tiff on Twitter with Jared Keller of Al-Jazeera America, who wrote that Reddit “hasn’t proven that it’s consistently better at reporting than any other news org.” Others noted some of the hoaxes and mistruths that have circulated or originated on the site, and its infamous witch-hunt following the Boston marathon bombing.
— Slade Sohmer (@SladeHV) February 25, 2014
Those are all fair points, and everything on Reddit needs to be taken with a few grains of salt. But its inaccuracies are a poor excuse for journalists whose knee-jerk reaction is to dismiss it, especially considering how many of them have embraced Twitter, which seems to kill a celebrity on a monthly basis.
Reporters have been slow to warm up to Reddit, dropping in for an occasional Ask Me Anything (AMA) and then scurrying back to the comfortable, familiar Twitter nest. This might have something to do with Reddit’s design, which reminds one of a primitive web forum, but journalists underestimate its potential at their own peril.
It takes work to build Reddit into something useful—even moreso than Twitter, which is more of a tabula rasa for new users. The default subreddits include such non-newsy topics as animal pictures, “Earth Porn” and “Explain Like I’m Five,” and even some of the good subreddits suffer from a glut of jargon and in-jokes. But it can also be a strong tool for gathering information; see one user’s use of social media to piece together the night of the Danzig shooting, two years ago.
The new liveupdate feature will probably bring out the best and worst of Reddit: information from people on the ground and misinformation from people nowhere near it. Using liveupdate, and Reddit more generally, to one’s advantage requires reporters to be skeptical and thorough—in short, it requires them to do their jobs. It’s understandable that this is difficult in the face of a still-young platform, but that shouldn’t scare off anyone.
Both gifs via Reddit, but you knew that.