Is Reddit journalism? The inevitable investigation.

If your interaction with Reddit is anything like mine, you’re a 9-percenter.

Remember the 90-9-1 rule of online community interaction? Well, on Reddit, I rarely say a word, and I’ve probably never started a thread, but I do so enjoy their magical little UI for upvoting posts and comments, especially on my phone, often in the middle of the night while trying to get a child back to sleep.

That places me somewhere between a lurker (90 percent) who never logs in, just reads and scans, and at best, might link to a thread from elsewhere, and an active participant (1 percent) who posts daily, optimizes their headlines to be more likely to garner enough upvotes to land on the homepage (please note the title of this blog post), and/or creates “novelty accounts” — usernames designed to be part of the joke themselves.

It’s a fascinating community, with Reddiquette that has evolved over the years, and a language of acronyms as described by David Weinberger in a blog post this weekend that acts as the beginning of a set of open questions along the lines of “Is Reddit Journalism?” But those quotation marks are my own. David’s questions are much better than that.

His questions revolve around the idea of “Reddit and community journalism(the actual title of his post, clearly not optimized for upvotes at the time of this writing.) Several key Reddit acronyms are covered, including TIL (Today I Learned) and AMA (Ask Me Anything).

Sound familiar?

Open up a daily newspaper, and find what in no uncertain terms we’d call “community journalism” in the form of interviews with and profiles of local personalities, unsung heroes, hidden gems, people in your neighborhood, etc.

That’s an AMA.

Admittedly, the request queue for print coverage in this vein could be considered a little less democratic than on Reddit, where a search for “IAMA request” strongly resembles the early days of the Help A Reporter Out mailing list.

And of course, we’ve all read columnists elaborate on some interesting tidbit of information or history of their community, sharing a discovery with their readers, who often write back in the form of letters (and now, comments, naturally) and share their own point of view, rebuttals, or even memories of the factoid in question.

That’s a TIL.

Now, go upvote this on Reddit.

If it makes it to the homepage, I’ll write a sequel titled “10 ways Reddit is like a newspaper in the 1980s.”


A challenge for you: Community coworking space and Web worker job training

Right here, right now, I’m going to give you a great idea, for free. Enter it in the Knight News Challenge (deadline: Oct. 15), or perhaps more likely, the Community Information Needs challenge (next year). Or fund it yourself. Or bootstrap it. Or pitch it to a local nonprofit with stimulus money to spend on job training in your city.

The Pitch

  1. Open up a coworking space for the Web workers in your town.
  2. Partner with a local nonprofit organization tasked with providing the community with job skills training.
  3. Give the Web workers (your paying customers) a discount based on the number of classes or hours of one-on-one training they offer to the community.

If you live in a city with a vibrant community of Web workers, chances are you’ve heard of coworking. I’d hesitate to call it a movement exactly, but it’s a trend with a simple premise: Create a space for telecommuters and freelancers to do their thing in a collaborative office-like setting, where they can use whiteboards, conference rooms, and each other to sound out ideas and maybe have a cup of coffee or two along the way.  Users of this space pay a daily, weekly, monthly rate, using a variety of membership models, for benefits like a reserved spot, an assigned desk, or storage lockers.

So there you are with a posse of intelligent, hard-working, collaboration-minded Web workers doing their thing, having a good time, and generally feeling like the next big thing.

Now is the time to use that momentum for social good.

Open up your coworking space to the community.  Maybe you’re located in an urban area still behind on the revitalization curve.  Maybe you’re located in a university town with a serious digital divide issue.  Maybe you’re located in a suburb hit hard by the recession, with lots of unemployed folks looking around for their next career.

Open your doors to them, with at least two options for learning Web skills that could help them get their next job, a better job, or their first job:

  • Classes taught by one or two coworkers at a time, like an introduction to Photoshop, HTML/CSS basics, or blogging.
  • Office hours where coworkers with specific skills are available for one-on-one training for more advanced students.

Things you will need to make this work

  • Web worker friends interested in coworking.
  • A nonprofit organization as a partner.
  • Patience.
  • Funding: I mentioned the Knight Foundation earlier, but this doesn’t have to be about news.  There are millions of dollars flowing into communities and nonprofits from the federal government at the moment, and post-industrial job skills must be on the list of the sort of things that money should be paying to provide, right? Right.
  • A very serious entrepreneurial spirit.
  • A big smile.

I gave this idea some pretty serious thought a few months ago in Rochester, NY, before we moved to the DC area, and came to the conclusion that I wasn’t personally ready for the massive life-changing-ness that this sort of enterprise required … but maybe you are.

If you go for it, let me know.

Notes for news-oriented friends: Yes, your news organization could do something similar in a Newsroom Café setting, and at some point I thought this could be a way to train the community as citizen journalists to provide a context for learning Web worker job skills.  Maybe that would work.

Newspapers get the kind of communities they deserve

Mathew Ingram on one reason, among others he covers here, on why reporters should get involved with the community frequenting their stories: “Another thing that seems to escape many journalists is the direct connection between their own indifference to interacting with readers and the parlous state of their comments. If my research has taught me anything — not to mention writing columns and a blog for 15 years — it is that the surest way to improve the tone of the debate in forums or comments is to get involved in them.”

Newspapers get the kind of communities they deserve

New at IdeaLab: The People Formerly Known as the Audience need a new name

Over at IdeaLab, I’m continuing a conversation I started on Twitter a couple weeks ago that spilled over here as well.

What do you call your readers now that they’re participating actively in the creation and curation of unbundled media?

Do you call them a community?

Better yet, what makes an online “community” and how can local news sites foster an environment that makes that more likely?

Here’s a bit from the IdeaLab post, related to something I read recently at GeekDad:

“Because I’m a geek/dad, if not necessarily a full-blown Geekdad yet, it makes perfect sense. These are people like me writing about experiences that are either familiar to me, or talking about ideas that I’m profoundly interested in as a member of the community of people who self-identify as geekdads.

So maybe readers have a common topic of interest (baseball, city government, gardening), but a community is the topic of interest itself (baseball players, city council members and local activists, serious gardeners).”

What do you think?  Head over to IdeaLab and add a comment to let me know.

Are your readers a community?

I asked my Twitter followers what they think of substituting the word “community” for “readers” and I’m getting lots of good responses, many of them negative.

Either I didn’t know “community” had much of a stigma, or I spent too long working with “community” newspapers to notice. Back then, it seemed like a great linguistic way to hold a grizzled editor or publisher’s hand as they made the leap from thinking of the people in town as their “readers” to collaborating with them as “the former audience” as Dan Gillmor called them.

Twitter conversation embedded below, using Twickie to try it out.

ryansholin: I&#39ve been substituting the word “community” every time I start to type “readers” lately. What do you think?

about 44 minutes ago

lacajag: I like it. That&#39s what communication&#39s all about now.

about 42 minutes ago

greglinch: I&#39ve been liking “the former audience” more and more lately, but mostly avoid using it myself for some reason. Community = good.

about 41 minutes ago

scottros: good plan when readers really are community. True for some pubs/sites, not others. If not, then calling it so just rankles.

about 37 minutes ago

briandonohue: don&#39t like it. Use of community to describe online followers, etc is a pet peeve of mine.

about 35 minutes ago

CatrionaStuart: Depends. You can have readers and not community. IMHO community denotes sharing knowledge/ideas/function.

about 34 minutes ago

briandonohue: My readers are not part of my community. They won&#39t babysit my kids in a pinch or coach my kid soccer…

about 34 minutes ago

CharlieBeckett: I think community is almost a dead word now. Just because a group all read something doesn&#39t make them a cohesive community

about 5 minutes ago

On IdeaLab: Reporter-turned-blogger covers the island of Alameda

Over at the PBS IdeaLab blog, I interviewed Michele Ellson, editor and publisher at The Island, a local news site devoted to covering the city of Alameda, which sits to the west of Oakland in San Francisco Bay. (Yes, it’s an island.)

Michele left newspapers in 2007 and launched The Island in early 2008, continuing a 17+ year journalism career.  I worked with Michele on the regional desk at ANG, before it became BANG, but you know it more informally as the cluster of newspapers in the Bay Area owned by MediaNews.  Back then, she was an investigative/enterprise reporter winning awards for a long series on the failures of group homes for young people and the developmentally disabled.

I talked with Michele about moving from a print-focused newsroom to a Web-only culture where she is the reporter, editor, community manager, and communications officer of her own organization:

“That’s another thing that I think was a shock for me in moving from print to online – the shift in what your readers want and expect from you in terms of their psychic needs (which shift from information to attention-getting, sometimes) and the kind of engagement they anticipate. I figure it’ll take a lot of work for me to fine-tune that engagement level.”

Read the whole thing at IdeaLab.

Why commenting on news sites still stinks: Further notes on the commenting survey results

The most striking conclusion I’ve come to based on the results of the commenting survey that 49 online news folks answered over the last week or two was this:

Commenting on news stories is still broken.  Busted.  Stinks.  It’s a mudpit.  Still.

I’ve been writing about how to improve commenting on news sites for a couple years now, but all my ideas — and really, most of the systems I’m borrowing ideas from — are technological solutions.

And that’s fine, and good, and necessary, but the feeling I’m walking away from these survey results with is the feeling that no matter what technical solution a news organization implements, there are still a set of very human problems to be solved in the newsroom if you really want to raise the quality of the comment threads on your stories.

In short, you can let readers “report as offensive” and ask questions and e-mail to a friend and vote comments up and down and recommend comments all day long, but if there’s not a journalist managing the community — participating in threads, asking and answering questions, and generally continuing the conversation — your comment threads will stay a mudpit, all technology, identity, and registration aside.

So here are a few ideas.  Thinking out loud here, so please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments here.

  • Take an hour or two one day, Web producer or online editor, and make sure every reporter and editor in the newsroom is registered (if necessary) for your site’s commenting system.  Send them their login and password information for it, and follow up at their desk — get them to log in while you stand there if you can.
  • Don’t make one staffer responsible for comment monitoring and moderation every day — rotate throughout the week.  Comment moderation can be a drag, frankly, and it’s easy to get sick of dealing with abuse reports and reader complaints.   Let a few people take a turn, and invite editors and reporters to join in, even if it’s just for a few hours at a time.
  • Take the crazy Air Force flowchart seriously!  Make your own and print it out for comment moderators as a basic guide to which commenters to engage in conversation and when to let trolls have their say.
  • If you’re an online editor or Web producer who sends out a daily or weekly e-mail to the newsroom with a list of popular stories or recommended reading, add a comment of the day to that message, or tack it up on the bulletin board.

What else?  Again, we’re looking to work on the human (as in, your newsroom staff) issues, not the technological ones, for the moment, at least.