ProPublica

Journalism in the Public Interest

Listening Post? Assignment Desk? Explore Investigative Reporting on Reddit

Last week, we set aside the red-flag-in-a-potted-plant approach to investigative journalism for something a little more open: we started a subreddit.

What’s a subreddit? It’s a little slice of Reddit, the social network that bills itself as "the front page of the Internet." Reddit has become a place where breaking news is chronicled in real-time and the two-way newsmaker interview has given way to "IAmA" chats led by everyone from Barack Obama to a death row survivor. News often unfolds in subreddits, and each has a unique name, purpose and set of rules (we’ll come back to that last part about rules in a bit).

ProPublica’s subreddit is called “Investigate This News.” While our format is experimental, the goal of this subreddit simple: Liberate good story ideas from our inboxes and put them in a place where they can be acknowledged, discussed and potentially adopted by our newsroom or others.

At ProPublica, we receive story suggestions by email every day. We dig into these tips regularly, and let them go when they don’t match our editorial focus or resources. Reddit allows us to solicit story ideas in a more collaborative yet structured way. As with most other subreddits, ours has rules that we will continue to develop as we learn what works for the community. Our only hard and fast rule so far: we don’t allow people to pitch jobs or services. We also outline criteria for people to consider when they are submitting story ideas.

We aren’t looking for basic spot news; redditors should include clear accountability angles in their pitches. We also ask people to check whether their idea has already been reported and to include relevant links and evidence when possible. 

Far from a free-for-all, we’ve had several solid ideas submitted so far. Here are a few:

Will we report all of these? No. But we have already found one idea that melds nicely with a subject we are actively investigating. When we seize an idea to test or report, we will make it a separate post, like this one on predatory lenders. When we spot good opportunities for other news organizations, we’ll make an attempt to flag those as well. And we’ll continue to encourage journalists to jump into the fray with us.

When Mike Corey noticed Clay Shirky’s pitch to create an index of public salaries, Corey jumped in with information about a project in the works at the Center for Investigative Reporting.

We're actually working on a project that hits a lot of these points. It's an app called Payday that serves as a public salary platform designed for small newsrooms without programming skills to easily get up and running.

A quick rundown of features we're planning to incorporate:

  • You'll be able to give Payday a .CSV with the right columns, and Payday will generate city, county, department and individual salary pages.
  • Visualizations to show the shape of each city/county/whatever's payroll and departments.
  • Built-in tie-ins with census demographic data, so users can get a look at some of the reasons salaries might be higher one place than elsewhere.
  • A full API, because we really want other people to use the data

Newsrooms interested in working with CIR’s Payday California data can contact Mike by emailing mcorey@cironline.org. These are the kind of connections we are encouraged to see.

What do you want to see reported? Join us on Reddit to explore the issue further. And if Reddit’s not for you, that’s fine too. You can still email us tips the old-fashioned way at suggestions@propublica.org. The point is, we’re listening.

By the way, members of our Reporting Network got a sneak peek at our new subreddit last week. If you’d like to get a heads up on new initiatives from Get Involved, you can sign up for occasional email alerts here

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