Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Pew Survey Sizes Up Condé Naste's Unspammable Reddit: A Newspaper Model From The Future?

Posted by Tom Foremski - July 16, 2013

2013 07 16 09 38 56

Pew Research reports that six per cent of all online adults use Reddit: 15% of males aged 18-29; 8% of males aged 30 to 49; and 5% of women aged 18 to 49.

This extraordinary audience is mostly urban and suburban, strongly millennial, and strongly anti-commercial – bad news for the legions of marketeers that always flock to the latest fast growing social media sites, such as Pintrest and Tumblr.

The survey of Reddit's users is the first by Pew Research, which conducts large numbers of surveys that chart the reach of media, and people's media consumption habits.

Pew compares Reddit to other social media sites: 

In a separate survey in December 2012, we asked about the use of a number of other social media platforms. The proportion of online adults who use reddit is similar to the proportion that use Tumblr (also 6%), and around half the number that use Twitter (16%), Pinterest (15%), or Instagram (13%). Some 67% of online adults are Facebook users.

Six percent of online adults use reddit | Pew Internet & American Life Project

The demographics of Reddit's audience are a marketers wet dream but how to reach it? Planting stories, or even a merest whiff of suspicion of manipulating Reddit can ban people and organizations for life. 

The site's numerous sub-sections are manned by layers of editors surfacing stories that are submitted and voted by the community, from a wide variety of sources. Although they can't validate the content of source material, the "Redditors" and the community itself, are tirelessly vigilant against anyone, any PR firm, or company, trying to manipulate a story's rank. 

The risks of a Reddit PR strategy…

A highly placed news story on Reddit is very valuable to other media companies because it brings a huge pageview payoff. It's also valuable for PR and marketing firms hired to promote client news. But Reddit is unspammable and even a whiff of manipulation can blacklist a publication or organization.

Recently, Quickmeme.com was banned following revelations of vote manipulation. It was reportedly earning as much as $2 million per month from manipulating Reddit traffic. And The Atlantic has been blacklisted for attempts at promoting stories. 

Although Reddit can't directly distinguish between sourced stories whose content might have been promoted or corrupted by PR agencies, the community can question those stories and their information. A high rank for a story on Reddit might be because the content of the story is suspect, creating a large discussion group. Which is not always a good thing depending on whose interests are at stake.

Reddit's popularity is very much dependent upon its ability to keep commercial manipulation at bay -- a problem for owner Condé Nast, which publishes glossy magazines such as Wired, New Yorker, and Vanity Fair. In September 2011, the publishing giant spun-off Reddit into an independent subsidiary so that its commercial interests wouldn't anger the Reddit community and have it fork-off somewhere else.

All the other social media platforms, indeed other media publications -- are spammable, can be manipulated to varying degrees by commercial interests. For example, companies hire PR firms to get stories into august publications such as the New York Times; or the Wall Street journal, or, my alma mater: the Financial Times. You can't do that with Reddit.

"Get me the front page of the Wall Street Journal" is a familiar complaint by PR firms about their clients. It's hard to do but it is doable. Not with Reddit.

A model for the newspaper of the future?

What if a major newspaper, say the New York Times banned PR firms, corporations, from communicating with, or meeting its journalists? No pitching. 

What if it stopped sending reporters to White House briefings and press conferences -- all of which is used to control media coverage by controlling access to top officials?

What if a large newspaper offered its readers Reddit-like editorial controls, and encouraged a Reddit-like community to vote up, or reject its news stories? On its front page, on every page?

Reddit is showing newspapers a way to stay relevant in a world where a deluge of media of questionable sourcing and agendas, is disengaging citizens from being informed about the things that matter in a democracy.

Reddit demonstrates a media platform that values quality content, (there's plenty of silly stuff too), a community that intensely questions what it reads, and has what everyone wants: a highly engaged audience.

But can a newspaper, even one with the highest journalist ethics, be as staunchly independent of any means of manipulation and influence as Reddit? There is no newspaper that can measure up, at least not today.

Reddit is improving all the time, learning lessons, such as the from the Boston Bombing, and it can pick up a few best practices from traditional media.

Traditional media can learn from Reddit best practices, too. How to ensure that they are publishing news that matters, rather than news that matters to special interest groups.

Instead of declining every year, as news magazines and newspapers are today, the news organization of the future will be a thriving, sustainable business, with dynamic and engaged readers that are ever vigilant bulwarks against the "paid speech" of special interests.

Reddit offers some clues as to how to get to that future news organization.

We are engaged in a permanent battle of ideas, and which ideas will govern our societies. Money buys a lot of "free speech" and it buys a lot of votes. Reddit offers a mechanism to deal with this inequality and keep democracy healthy.

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Six percent of online adults use reddit | Pew Internet & American Life Project

Reddit Thrives Under Hands-Off Policy of Advance Publications - NYTimes.com 

The Daily Dot - Quickmeme banned from Reddit for alleged vote manipulation

How to get to the top of Reddit: lessons from the banning of Quickmeme - Quartz

Reddit: A Beginner's Guide

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