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June 21, 2016, 11:35 a.m.
Audience & Social

Mark Luckie on his new job at Reddit, diversity on the platform, and Today In #BlackTwitter

“With other social networks, it’s all about pushing as much content as possible, hoping that one will catch. Reddit is focused on single stories, rather than every single story or even the most recent story.”

To many news organizations, Reddit seems like a black box: It can deliver massive amounts of traffic to a single story, but it’s almost impossible to predict which stories will be the benefactors of that traffic.

Reddit also faces other problems of perception. It’s grappling with its goal to be seen as a legitimate news platform. Subreddits (the pages for individual topics and interest areas) are overseen by unpaid, volunteer moderators, not company employees. Following the Orlando shootings, for instance, the r/news subreddit devolved into chaos, forcing Reddit CEO Steve Huffman to address what had happened:

The platform is also often seen as a white male domain — which, in many ways, it is. In February, Pew reported that people who get news from Reddit are largely male (71 percent), white (74 percent), and young (59 percent are between the ages of 18 and 29).

Mark S. Luckie, whom Reddit hired earlier this year as its first-ever head of journalism and media, is tackling some of these problems. He’s helping news and government organizations understand better ways to use the platform. (He had a similar role as Twitter’s manager of journalism and news before leaving the company in 2015.)

Luckie has written about how difficult (and unusual) it can be to be a person of color at a tech company, and told TechCrunch in March, “I want to bring that element of diversity to Reddit, both internal and external — being a black employee who can be the voice of underrepresented communities and externally to show that diversity is possible.”

A few months in at Reddit, Luckie has begun working to address some of these issues of reliability and diversity — “starting out by increasing the diversity of the news organizations we work with.” I spoke with him last week about how the job is going a few months in (and also asked what happened to his publication Today in #BlackTwitter, which highlighted the best of discussions on Black Twitter but stopped publishing in April.)

“What I’m doing is providing lightning in a bottle,” Luckie told me, “saying, yes, this seems random, but actually, it’s not.” Our conversation, edited and condensed for length and clarity, is below.

Laura Hazard Owen: What does your job at Reddit entail?

Mark Luckie: Before I came on at Reddit, they didn’t have anyone who was working directly with news organizations. News flows through Reddit and is a big part of Reddit’s DNA; news links are heavily shared on Reddit, and people are having discussions around them. I’m both helping news organizations connect with these audiences who are talking about news stories, and bringing redditors closer to their favorite news organizations.

A lot of what I’m doing started out with education around Reddit. I want to make sure that reporters and publishers are familiar with the platform and that they know what it means beyond the front page. I want to help them with integrations like Ask Me Anything and using Reddit as sourcing for new stories.

I’m also looking at the cool things we can do together that have not been done before. There are a lot of those in the works, and I can’t say what they are just yet, but it’s really pushing the boundary of what’s possible within journalism and social media.

Owen: I think a lot of news organizations feel as if traffic from Reddit is like a lightning strike, impossible to predict or control.

Luckie: Yeah, a lot of publishers’ understanding is it’s a lightning strike. You see that story bubble up on social media or on your analytics, and you’re like, oh my God, Reddit is sending me all this traffic.

What I’m doing is providing lightning in a bottle — saying, yes, this seems random, but actually, it’s not. There are some ways that you can encourage your stories and conversations to be more widely circulated on the platform.

With other social networks, it’s all about pushing as much content as possible, getting as many links out there as you can, hoping that one will catch. Reddit is focused on single stories, rather than every single story or even the most recent story. Some Reddit news sources that hit the front page are a year or more old, but they have content that’s relevant and interesting.

When you look at it through that lens, it shapes how you approach the platform. It’s a much better experience on both sides if publishers understand that Reddit is a community and that they should engage in conversations, rather than just jumping into them and pushing their content onto redditors.

Owen: Which publishers are doing that well?

Luckie: One of the low-hanging fruits is to engage with the community. A lot of local publications get into city- or area-specific subreddits. I don’t want to give away names because we’re still developing strategies with [these publications], but, for example, local publications will find stories that they may have missed, or they’ll find people talking about their stories.

Entertainment reporters are going to the TV show subreddits, seeing what people are talking about and having active discussions there. Tech organizations can get a really on-the-ground understanding of what people are anticipating or what they like about a particular technology. And because Reddit is a threaded experience, with upvoting and downvoting, it’s much easier to find those conversations and follow them than it is in places where it’s basically a single post that people are responding to.

Owen: What other things can publishers do?

Luckie: One idea is to do an Ask Me Anything, which is really one of the cornerstones of Reddit. Publishers were doing them before, but they weren’t seeing them as a promotional vehicle for their content. We’re encouraging people to not just say they’re doing an AMA, but also to provide links to their stories and stuff they’ve done before — ‘Here is a previous example of what I’ve worked on’ or ‘Here’s something that gives you an idea of my credibility.’

The Associated Press did an AMA on its series about evangelical Christianity. We had W. Kamau Bell from CNN do one about his story on meeting with the KKK. The LA Times did one around its investigation into Oxycontin.

Journalists from the Panama Papers have done AMAs and gotten feedback from other users. This fits with another feature inside of Reddit, Reddit Live. Reddit Live is essentially a live wiki where people aggregate information around a particular topic. Reddit users are actually digging into the Panama Papers and finding interesting tidbits as well as sharing what they found with the news organizations. It plays really well with the user-generated content that has been a huge part of journalism in the last couple years.

Owen: What’s going on with Upvoted, Reddit’s original content site that launched last October? [In April, The Information reported that Upvoted is being scaled back drastically.]

Luckie: Right now we’re doing product and publishing partnerships to highlight the best content on Reddit. One of the best ways we’ve done that is with Reddit Embeds. Now you can embed a Reddit thread or a Reddit comment in the same way that you would embed a tweet or a YouTube video. Because so many news organizations are sourcing from Reddit, we want to make sure that the news organizations are getting a great experience, that redditors are getting proper credit, and that people are able to follow along with the conversations. That’s been, so far, a huge boon all around.

Owen: When you were hired at Reddit, you said you planned to work on increasing diversity within the organization. That was also something you were very concerned with at Twitter. How’s it going at Reddit?

Luckie: We’re starting out by increasing the diversity of the news organizations that we work with. So, for example, we’re talking to publications that focus on women’s issues, or black issues. One of the most popular communities on Reddit is the TwoXChromosomes community, and we want to bring attention to the great conversations that are happening there. We also partnered with the blackladies subreddit and are working with them to create visibility around some of the conversations that they’re doing.

Recently, Reddit was at Ru Paul’s DragCon, a convention of drag queens in LA. Ru Paul’s Drag Race community is one of the largest and most active on Reddit, so we had a physical integration [at the convention] where we talked to redditors and interviewed queens and all that good stuff. You’ll start to see more of that, where we are having both online and in-person conversations with our users, and highlighting that there is diversity on the platform.

Owen: I think of Reddit as being a very male platform. Do you think other people share that perception?

Luckie: People have a perception of Reddit’s demographics that aren’t actually reflective of the platform itself. Yes, there are a number of white male users, but there are people of all ages, demographics, genders, and races, and I think that’s reflected in the number of communities on Reddit — there are hundreds of thousands of subreddits dedicated to anything and everything. I mentioned TwoXChromosomes, but there’s also Shorthaired hottiest, or one of the most popular subreddits is the BlackPeopleTwitter subreddit, where people are reacting to what’s trending on the internet, memes and pop culture discussions and breaking news.

Owen: Wait, is your own Today in #BlackTwitter still a thing? You haven’t updated it since April.

Luckie: Today in #BlackTwitter is an experiment that I’d like to move forward with. Right now, it’s on a temporary hiatus while that’s being considered.

Owen: Okay. So back to the diversity on Reddit.

Luckie: Depending on where you go inside of Reddit, you’re just going to have a very different experience. It’s like a dating app — there’s something for everything out there. The great thing about Reddit is that, no matter who your community or tribe is, you’re going to find hundreds, thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people on the platform who share the same background or interests as you.

Owen: How does that compare to different audiences on Twitter?

Luckie: Twitter is focused on a global audience, making sure that everyone has an equal experience across the platform, whereas Reddit is really focused on how to uplift individual communities and how to get journalists to interact with the subreddits that are most relevant to them. Twitter isn’t broken down that way; there aren’t really clusters of people. Yes, you can follow individuals, but here, you can follow whole communities.

I love Twitter and 140 characters, I’m able to have really great conversations, but on Reddit, those conversations are longer, they’re deeper, they’re more insightful; they also are archived, so you can see a post from five years ago as easily as you can see one from 10 minutes ago. I think that’s a great opportunity for news organizations, because they can see these discussions, see how people are responding, and be able to follow those conversations and use them as a way to source and interact with users.

I also think one of the great advantages of Reddit over Twitter is that a journalist can send a private message to a user, so you don’t have to publicly reveal the story that you’re working on or who you’re contacting, and can go directly to the source. [On Twitter, you can’t DM someone unless they already follow you or they’ve opened their DMs up to everyone. One of Nieman Lab’s favorite Twitter searches is “I’m a reporter…”]

Owen: That’s cool, I didn’t know that. Are you guys thinking about releasing some kind of “Reddit Tools for Journalists” report or anything like that, consolidating these tips in one public location?

Luckie: We’ve thought about it. We’re not working on it just yet, but on the broader company level, we are building in the tools and features that people have been asking for. That’s our main focus right now.

A lot of the things that are being built into Reddit are the product of conversations that we’ve been having with news organizations. Because we’re growing, this is a great time for news organizations to talk to us about the things they’d like to see in the platform, and what their goals are.

Owen: How can they do that?

Luckie: Email mark dot luckie at reddit dot com.

Owen: Okay, I think you’re going to get some emails.

POSTED     June 21, 2016, 11:35 a.m.
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