Future Tense

Reddit’s Politics Section Decides Mother Jones Isn’t All “Bad Journalism”

Mother Jones editors Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein have won National Magazine Awards, and now they've won back the esteem of one of the nation's most influential politics news boards—for the time being, anyway.
Mother Jones editors Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein have won National Magazine Awards, and now they’ve won back the esteem of one of the nation’s most influential politics news sites.

Photo by Andy Kropa/Getty Images

The volunteers who run Reddit’s most influential politics section announced Monday that they’ve taken a second look at some of the domains they banned last week, and decided to reinstate one: Mother Jones. The others, including Gawker, Huffington Post, the National Review, Reason, Salon, ThinkProgress, and Vice, are still verboten for the time being.

The moderators apologized again for their handling of the controversy, which began when they added dozens of major media outlets to the “banned domains” list for /r/politics, the subreddit they oversee. The moderators originally explained that they had banned these publications based on user complaints of sensational headlines, “blogspam,” and plain “bad journalism,” but they didn’t give specifics.

I and others criticized the ban last week, pointing out that, among other problems, it seemed bizarre to rule out sites like Mother Jones that produce award-winning investigations while continuing to support links to tabloid machines like the Daily Mail. The moderators first apologized in a post on Saturday, promising changes to the controversial policy.

In their announcement on Monday, the moderators said that three separate reviews of Mother Jones posts submitted to /r/politics had determined that “the majority of Mother Jones content is not problematic.” Still, they took the opportunity to criticize some “sensationalist” Mother Jones headlines, like “16 ways the default will screw Americans.” And they reiterated their opposition to “blogspam” from Mother Jones and other sites, which they previously defined as “nothing more than quoting other articles to get pageviews.”

The moderators explained that they’re also planning a more thorough review of some of the other banned sites, but that they decided not to unban any others for the time being. “We recognize that our biggest mistake in this policy was doing too much too fast,” they wrote. “We are determined not to repeat this mistake.”

They also rejected the notion that they were simply “bending to the pressure of criticism that MJ, Slate, and others wrote about this policy,” adding that “many of these editorials had significant gaps in information.” They then cited some examples of gaps in information, though as far as I can tell, none of those apply to either my piece or the interview with Mother Jones co-editor Clara Jeffery published earlier last week in On the Media’s TLDR blog. “Information gaps” aside, they wrote:

The fact is that this policy has flaws. Some of the criticism is correct. Admitting that isn’t bending to pressure; that’s being reasonable.

That’s true, and the moderators’ willingness to reevaluate a big decision in the face of a backlash seems like a good sign for the future of /r/politics. And, just maybe, it’s a promising omen for the future of Reddit as a whole, though it’s important to note that what happens on one subreddit doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the rest of the site. Each subreddit is run by volunteer moderators who take responsibility for making and enforcing the rules for that section. The “bad journalism” fiasco is noteworthy because it highlights how much power these volunteers have to redirect the flow of traffic on the Web, sometimes based on criteria that are ill-defined and poorly understood. On the other hand, the moderators’ relatively quick and mostly level-headed response suggests that they’re not as unaccountable as some of their critics might have feared.