Shortly after a black-clad psycho opened fire in an Aurora, Colorado midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises on Thursday night, killing at least 12 and injuring 50, Reddit users began racing to compile as much information on the tragedy as possible. In the process, the link aggregation giant became a real-time feed of raw data, much of the information accurate, some of it not, all of it published for a fully-engaged and active audience well in advance of any national news outlet. The Future Journalism Project on Tumblr defined it correctly as crowd-sourcing the reportage and noted some of the most organized efforts by Redditors: sequential, linked threads in the /r/news subreddit:
- Comprehensive timeline: Aurora Massacre
- Comprehensive timeline, part 2: Aurora Massacre
- Comprehensive timeline, part 3: Aurora Massacre
Each post was a crisp feed of new developments almost as they happened, Redditor integ3r frequently editing out bad data and polishing good information as commenters threw everything they could find into the pot regarding first-person accounts of the shooting on Twitter (and elsewhere on Reddit), possible victims and information on the suspected killer, 24-year-old James Holmes.
In spite of integ3r’s best efforts, there were information misfires (and the usual trolling) in comments, making sourcing the Reddit threads a risky proposition for members of the mainstream media following along. We don’t know (for example) if ABC’s Brian Ross used Reddit as his source for a spurious and widely-ridiculed conflating of Mr. Holmes with a Jim Holmes whose membership status in the Denver Tea party was once posted online, but a link speculating about the connection was posted–and debunked–in one of the Reddit timelines well in advance of Mr. Ross’s statement.
A frequent version of this question has popped up in various Reddit threads about various nuggets of information regarding the Aurora Massacre: why isn’t this on the national news? The answer is that networks are attempting from the first report to build a narrative, make a story. Reddit is simply after pure, virtually unfiltered information and Redditors more than willing to sort it all out for themselves as they go along.
Reddit’s unfiltered onslaught of good and bad data when covering rapidly breaking stories like this mass shooting isn’t superior to layers of vetting by editors and producers slaving away in editing bays in newsrooms across America–but it is likely becoming a hidden, key ingredient whenever Big News blood sausage gets made.