Reddit isn’t exactly a household name when it comes to the news, at least not for people who grew up with traditional sources like newspapers and TV networks. But a new report from the Pew Research Center says that for those who visit Reddit regularly, the site plays a significant role in their news consumption: Almost 80% of its users say that they get their news there.
According to the Pew report, only about 7% of U.S. adult Internet users spend time at Reddit, compared with about 23% who use Twitter and more than 71% who use Facebook. The Reddit community is also substantially male: About 70% of users are men and 56% are between the ages of 18 and 29.
So mainstream Reddit clearly is not. But the Pew report paints an interesting picture of how important the site is for its users as a source of news, and specifically news about the 2016 U.S. election. Almost half of all Reddit users said that they learned something news-worthy about the presidential campaign from the site in a given week.
And while its reach may not be broad, Reddit is clearly a substantial digital-media entity when measured by its sheer size: The site gets more than 200 million unique visitors every month, and typically has about 4 million logged-in users every day, looking at or commenting on one of the community’s more than 8 billion active pages.
Since Reddit is primarily a social community, with tens of thousands of discussion threads or “sub-Reddits” devoted to various topics, what users mean when they say they “get news” from the site is probably a bit different than getting news from a newspaper.
In Reddit’s case, there are no editors choosing articles that sit on the front page—or rather, there are millions of editors, all of whom vote with their clicks to determine what gets to the front page. And for each sub-Reddit, there are volunteer moderators who decide what appears in their forums, with little or no input from anyone associated with the company.
In the case of the election, for example, the Pew Center’s research looked at activity including comments across more than 340 sub-Reddits devoted to politics. Some of those forums had posts from more than 25,000 different authors during the three months the survey covered.
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If that sounds somewhat anarchic, it is. Which explains why Reddit is often associated less with news and more with unruly or even offensive content such as the GamerGate controversy, or even worse examples of the darker side of human behavior that have appeared there in recent years.
Since the company took $50 million in funding from a group of venture capital funds in 2014, it has been trying to corral some of that behavior. The site’s co-founders, Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian—who created the site in 2005 when they were university students—recently returned to take control of the company and try to fix some of its flaws.
Reddit has also launched its own news site, called Upvoted (since that’s what users do to comments or links that they like). It tracks the news stories that are getting the most activity, and the site also has a podcast that does the same thing and talks to users who post about those stories.
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For the most part though, getting news from Reddit is still a little like getting news from a football stadium filled with screaming fans. And the news-related activity that Pew tracked related to the election could just as easily have been offensive comments about a candidate or jokes about fighting 100 duck-sized horses vs. one horse-sized duck.
That said, however, the site has been experimenting for some time now with ways of enhancing its status as a news entity, including a “live reporting” feature it launched in 2014 that has helped independent journalists cover news events such as the civil war in Syria. And it recently hired Mark Luckie, former manager of journalism and news at Twitter, as the site’s head of media, which appears to indicate that it is interested in pursuing its future as a news platform.