From the Trenches

A note from the Daily Dot’s CEO

This week we took a step toward surmounting one of our biggest challenges: How do we actually get the news from the online communities we cover?

The community-reporting model we’re starting from comes from journalism as practiced in small towns. As a cub reporter, I would sometimes do the police blotter when the cops and courts reporter was sick or on vacation. There was a warm little media room in the police station. You went in, with your coffee and your laptop, and you went through the reports, which they’d conveniently photocopied for you.

The sheriff’s office faxed their reports over. Again, convenient.

At the next paper I worked at, I wasn’t a reporter anymore, but the newsroom spun out public records requests as if we had a mimeograph dedicated to the purpose.

Police reports and public documents (especially the ones you have to demand while waving the constitution) are the blood of today’s newspaper industry — seriously: “if it bleeds it leads.” This stuff sells papers, and for better or worse, there’s a lot of it.

As a cub reporter on the business and schools beats, my production target was two stories a day. If memory serves, the cops and courts reporter’s target was six. Simply because that copy just spews out of the government.

But the Daily Dot has set out to cover a vast number of online communities ruled by code, not law. No one’s writing up convenient reports. You can’t just plop yourself in the courthouse and start churning out stories. The Freedom of Information Act doesn’t cover Facebook.

Old reliable ain’t gonna work.

Our solution is, in part, technology. We’re starting with Reddit, Wired Digital’s headline-discussion community, as our guinea pig. Why? First of all, because we love Reddit. Second, because Reddit is a nice size: small enough to have a cohesive identity as a community, large enough to have an amazing diversity.

Working in partnership with data consultant Ravel, we’ve analyzed the users of Reddit on a range of metrics to find out who’s the most active, who’s the most influential, etc. Obviously, this information is interesting in itself — it’s content. In the coming weeks, we’re going to be releasing it in various ways: lists, infographics, and who knows what else.

But for us, the more important reason to do this kind of thing is that it identifies important sources. These are the newsmakers and opinion-shapers in these communities. We’ve actually produced this information as an API that we can ping, crunch, and shuffle, because there’s going to be dozens of ways to use it.

The output may not be as nice and clean as a police report, but any reporter has to — or should — do some reporting on top of what five-oh gives him anyway. For our purposes, now at least we know who the sheriff is.

— Nick White
CEO and Cofounder, the Daily Dot

Photo by NS Newsflash/Flickr

Nicholas White

Nicholas White

Nicholas White is the founder and editor in chief of the Daily Dot. His work has appeared in Wired, PBS, the Associated Press and elsewhere, and his reporting has been honored for excellence in journalism by the Associated Press.