No, Reddit won’t ruin journalism (or save it)

I’m not dogmatic about either side of the debate when it comes to using Reddit to crowdsource information that may lead to better understanding about live events. This isn’t limited to Reddit but is true for any platform available to the public where they can share what they’re seeing with the world. Yes, we all realize there’s the capacity to spread rumors, falsehoods, even smear and libel, which should not be taken lightly. We’ll need to work to find ways to avoid and deal seriously with this element. However we should not dismiss the usefulness of these platforms to be a window into what’s happening anywhere in the world at any time.

I’ve seen great things come out of Storyful’s Open Newsroom, mostly because it consists of pseudo-experts or at least people who have a great deal of respect for the basic tenants of journalism. They’re sharing content they’ve found through social networks that have the potential for high value to help the public better understand the current state of affairs in places like Syria, Bahrain, Egypt, and many more places that have varying degrees of 24/7 on-the-ground coverage. The Open Newsroom acts as a place for folks who care very deeply about “getting things right” to share what they’re seeing and talk amongst themselves and use the tools they’ve learned, both new tricks and old, to ferret out if what we’re seeing is true or false. This isn’t different than journalism as it existed 50 to 100 years ago, except we have the abilty to collaborate better and have access to better tools to verify the accuracy of reports. We have more material and we have more metadata.

Reddit, if the very serious issues of libel and rumor can be managed, can become another great source of information for those further up the chain, like Open Newsroom, to chew over and analyze. There are communities all over Reddit and it’s not accurate to paint them all with the same brush. Some will have stricter rules than others, some will be managed with greater accuracy in mind. We should encourage and nuture it, not dismiss and marginalize it.

It’s far from perfect but it has potential that should be given a chance to grow into what Open Newsroom has become.

Required reading: Lessons in crowdsourced verification of news from Storyful and Syria’s Reddit forum

The subtle difference between news apps

Let’s start out by laying it out: anything on your phone today is competing for your attention, therefore every app is a competitor to every other app.

However, there’s a difference between “news readers,” “news apps” and “social feed readers.” Some overlap these categories but for the most part they fall into one of the three.

News Readers

News readers are RSS readers on steroids. They take in your feeds or they supply their own based on other people’s articles, and pull them in. They might categorize them, add some clever design on top of them (Flipboard) but they don’t produce any editorial at all. News readers are useful for keeping up with all the primary news sources you regularly like to read in one app. Examples: ZiteFlipboard.

News Apps

News apps are produced by humans. They might provide those humans with some tools to produce that news, but the product has a heavy human touch. There might be aggregation, but that aggregation is done by humans who use it to build a new story, and cite sources properly. Some folks may have found ways to present the news differently and maybe add features that traditional news apps never had before (Circa’s “Follow” feature.) Examples of News Apps: New York TimesThe GuardianCNNThe Verge, and Circa News

Social Feed Readers

These are apps that pull in your social feeds and present them in a way that might be confused for “news.” These are apps like Flipboard and Facebook’s new “Paper” app. If your friends share a link to a news item they might show up here but that’s not the primary focus of these apps. Flipboard is one of those apps that floats between “News Reader” and “Social Feed Reader” because it offers both options.

The New News Wires

These are apps that are minimalist in their approach. They provide simply headlines and links to primary sources or simply a paragraph. These are apps like Breaking News and Inside. They might provide features like ways to follow topics and be alerted when something new arrives in those topics.

All of these types of apps have their own utility. They might compete with each other but these apps likely see something like Angry Birds as a bigger competitor for your phone time more than anything else.