Fast Chat: Erik Martin on Reddit’s Coverage of the Aurora Theater Massacre

In the immediate aftermath of the Aurora theater shooting, social news and community site Reddit quickly became a prominent resource for coverage. Well before most awoke on Friday morning, 18-year-old Redditor Morgan Jones had a comprehensive news thread with over 50 updates. Throughout the day, major news outlets pulled video and followed leads from the Reddit community, causing many to praise the quality of the site's crowdsourced citizen journalism. Adweek spoke with Reddit general manager, Erik Martin, about the platform and how it is changing breaking news coverage.

Adweek: Has this type of painstakingly curated and investigative citizen journalism been going on for a while and people are just getting wise to it on a national level, or is this something new to Reddit?

Erik Martin: Well, on a much lighter note in some of our sports communities are pulling in real-time data from FIFA or the NBA or whatever league, and they'll pull those in to create informative threads. For the Euro 2012, users used the data from the games to find a different way to cover these live events. This has been going on since the beginning in that people have always been taking our very simple, minimal and open platform and using it to do interesting things—using the self posting and editing functions to tell stories. There is always some evolution that comes from users trying it out. As far as the real-time, live on-going threads, like the Aurora shooting one, that is a little more recent.

As the Aurora shooting thread has been a big part of the news coverage of this tragedy, have you seen a big spike in traffic?

Perhaps a little higher for a Friday afternoon, but honestly, not anywhere outside of what we normally see. Maybe, maybe 10 percent more just by eyeballing it.

A lot of the early video we saw from the theater first surfaced on Reddit and a lot of journalists have not only cited, but also used Reddit to get in touch with primary sources. Is there a future with this crowdsourced journalism to create a reliable picture?

It is reliable in a sense. Two weeks ago there was a great comment thread about Obamacare where someone went through a huge comment thread and broke down the bill section by section in a very detailed and neutral way. That got passed around by Twitter, and people thought it was either funny or telling that some of the best information and analysis on this came from basically what is a message board. But then that user went and followed it up by going through the bill page by page and this thing is 900 pages long. I don't know this user at all. The user could live in Australia or something, but my guess is because there is this anonymity or pseudo-anonymity, the user probably wouldn't have said or done this on Facebook or Twitter or by blog. This individual clearly had a great knowledge of healthcare, and who knows he or she could get fired or something had they shared their insights with a large body of people.

Do you believe that Redditors who do this type of work aren't looking for notoriety, but rather are taking on a more altruistic role?

Some of that is because—take the people posting their pictures from the hospital on Reddit—none of them were popular users or anything. On Twitter or Facebook you need to have a built-up audience of followers, or you need to get noticed by somebody who has a lot of followers to spread information. On Reddit, that picture that the kid posted from the hospital got to the front page and was seen by hundreds of thousands of people in well under an hour, and that doesn't really happen that quickly in other places.