Reporting on Reddit, the ‘Front Page of the Internet’

by May 28, 2021
Image via Pexels.com user Brett Jordan.

At the start of 2021, the Gamestop/Reddit saga dominated the headlines. Reddit users on r/WallStreetBets managed to drastically inflate the stock prices of several struggling companies, like GameStop, Blackberry and AMC, costing major hedge funds betting against these companies billions of dollars. Reddit then went on launch its famous five second Super Bowl Ad declaring Reddit a place for “underdogs.” The following day, the company announced that its latest funding round had doubled its valuation to $6 billion. Wall Street and business insiders largely failed to predict the potential online users have to make an impact IRL (in real life). Here’s more information about the “front page of the internet” to help guide your reporting and some story ideas to pursue.

What is Reddit? 

Reddit is a social media platform founded in 2005 which now boasts about 52 million daily users. The site is made up of about 130,000 active communities called subreddits, where users can post content which can be both upvoted and downvoted by community members. The topics of focus in subreddits vary widely, but some examples include r/skincareaddiction, with a comment section filled with queries on the best vitamin c serums, and more general subreddits like r/politics which focus on the latest headlines. Some subreddits veer into the bizarre, with one community focused entirely on replacing images of human heads with bird heads (r/peoplewithbirdheads, of course). But what makes Reddit unique from competing platforms is its decentralized moderation structure. Reddit has its own policies that apply to all users, but subreddits are largely allowed to govern themselves with their own sets of rules enforced by volunteer moderators. Reddit CEO and co-founder Steve Huffman credits the platform’s popularity to its relatively laisse faire moderation policies. Redditors have “a real sense of ownership of their communities,” Huffman said at the 2021 SABEW conference. “At Reddit Inc., we create the platform, we create the technology…but ultimately our users have a lot of skin in the game, and I think that’s very different from the other platforms,” he said.

Here are some ways Reddit is evolving, and trends you should look out for when reporting on the ‘front page of the internet.’

Reddit going public: Huffman made clear in his talk at SABEW that Reddit will be taken public, it’s just a matter of when. In March, the company hired its first-ever CFO Drew Vollero, who previously helped take Snap public in 2017. Huffman has been hinting at an IPO for a few years, but with its increased popularity over the last few months, Reddit seems primed now more than ever to go public. At SABEW, Huffman hinted at Redditors potentially having access to shares before trading on the open market, but wasn’t explicit on how he planned to do this. “I would like that ownership (Redditors have with communities) to be mirrored with actual ownership,” Huffman said. 

New revenue models: Currently, Reddit’s main form of revenue is through advertising, but the site is making inroads on expanding other “parallel models” like subscription services, said Huffman. For $5.99 a month, Reddit Premium, formerly Reddit Gold, allows users to unlock certain extras like access to a members-only subreddit, Reddit ‘coins,’ and ad-free browsing. There appear to be no publicly available data on the amount of Reddit Premium users, and it remains to be seen if a subscription model becomes a serious source of revenue for the site. 

Corporate partnerships: Corporations are starting to court Reddit with ad deals for the chance to connect with their customers directly. The NFL partnered with the platform in 2019 to host a series of Ask Me Anythings (AMAs), giving redditors the opportunity to pose uncensored questions to the current and former players and executives. Reddit demanded nothing up front, but took its cut of the ad revenue. A similar partnership was made with the NBA this year. Huffman told SABEW guests that he welcomes future partnerships with brands. Huffman said that his thinking on ads have evolved over the years from a “necessary evil” to a way that companies can build “honest relationships” with their customers. “Part of our pitch (to companies)…is come build a new relationship with your customers around the passions that you all have in common,” Huffman said. “To the extent we can build honest relationships between brands and their customersーthat’s a win-win for everybody,” he said. Companies have sometimes played a role in policing content that appears on subreddits. With the help of the NBA, Reddit banned r/nbastreams in 2019 for streaming copyrighted games to its 400,000 subscribers. Similar actions were taken for subreddits streaming football, soccer and MMA matches. 

Content responsibility and Section 230: There’s been a lot of talk about Section 230 reform, and if you don’t know what that is, here is a great explainer from The Verge. Internet freedom advocates consider Section 230 to be one of the most important safeguards of free speech online. With a repeal, Reddit could be forced to abandon its decentralized moderation model, making the site a very different place for users. It will be interesting to watch the steps Reddit may take regarding content moderation, which have already seen some changes. Last summer, the company banned 2,000 subreddits deemed hateful, including r/the_donald, after updating its content policy. While Huffman has demonstrated his willingness to curb certain content, he said he won’t go in the direction of other companies, such as Facebook and the Facebook-owned Instagram, which are ostensibly fighting disinformation by directing users to official government sources, deleting hashtags associated with disinformation and downranking content deemed to be false or misleading. Huffman said he’d rather let users come to conclusions on their own. “I don’t think we should be the deciders in which news sources are better or worse,” he said at the 2021 SABEW conference. “The community by and large does a much better job at surfacing…helpful information,” Huffman said.  

Global ambitions: Reddit’s users are overwhelmingly U.S.-based, but Huffman envisions a world full of redditors. In the past year, he’s opened offices in the U.K. and Canada, with plans to “move into western Europe and from there beyond,” Huffman said. “The goal is everyone in the world.” The company also plans to double its number of employees in 2021, bringing on 700 new hires. 

Tips for reporters

  • Get familiar with the site and its search functions. If you’re interested in a specific subreddit, do some lurking. Read the rules and get to know what the community is talking about. Reddit is handy because you can filter threads by what’s trending. Also get familiar with “old Reddit” functionality. In 2018, Reddit was given its first makeover in over a decade, turning the site from a “dystopian Craigslist” (Huffman’s words) to a sleeker, more “user friendly” platform. Many users, however, prefer the old style, and certain options are only available there (like filtering threads by “controversial”). 
  • Google Alerts are a great tool for aggregating information on stories you’re covering. Simply create an alert using relevant key words and receive updates in your inbox. You can filter by language, region and source type. If you want to be on the look out for Reddit’s debut as a public company, for example, you might create an alert that looks like this: “Reddit” + “IPO.”   
  • Anyone reporting on Reddit should become familiar with Frontpagemetrics.com. The site’s home page lists trending subreddits, and the search bar allows you to search for metrics on any subreddit. This article also provides some additional websites that compile Reddit data. It’s geared toward marketers, but the tools are just as useful for business/tech reporters.