A song to read by: “Shoes Too Tight,” by Liam Kazar
Peering out of my bedroom window onto yet another gray morning, my cold room kept warm only by the faint whir of my overheated laptop, I draw a weary finger to the calendar hanging limply on my wall. “Ah,” I murmur, “Friday.”
Suddenly, sunlight pierces through my weirdly shaped bedroom. A bird chirps. I smell the aroma of coffee brewing in the kitchen. I remember the dream I had the night before, where I was the editor-in-chief of an incredibly famous media company that combined the effortless cool of Bon Appétit, the journalistic rigor of Pro Publica and the studied artistry of The Baffler. Everyone really loved and respected me, a lot, was the main thing I remember from the dream.
“Friday,” I exclaim, “It must be time for another Q&A on Medialyte!”
I open my laptop, which has inexplicably cooled down to a normal temperature. I head to the Substack website. Sure enough, there it is: A riveting back-and-forth between two rising stars of the media world, myself and the equally charming and revered Angel Mendoza.
I crack my knuckles like a prizefighting boxer, despite the fact that I am routinely complimented for how soft and delicate my hands are. “This is going to be good,” I say to myself.
And indeed it is. The conversation is electric. Angel, a social media and breaking news producer for The Arizona Republic, waxes poetic on his innovative ideas for social strategy. His hilarious Twitter personality radiates throughout the text, just as I’d hoped it would. In the Rapid Fire section, his self-deprecating answers convey the perfect blend of confidence and humility.
“Maybe, just maybe,” I think, “there’s never been a better Q&A in the history of interviews.” I later find out I’m right. I’ve been awarded a Pulitzer, even though they gave them away a week ago; they tell me not to worry about the logistics of it. “It’s not important to this scenario,” they say.
I lean back in my stiff wooden chair, so more of a tilt-back than a lean-back. “Everything’s coming up roses,” I say quietly. “Everything’s coming up goddamn roses.”
Who: Angel Mendoza
Broadly speaking, what do you do for The Arizona Republic?
That The Republic is active on Reddit is really interesting, because it’s a social platform that most publishers shy away from. It has a bit of a reputation for being cold toward brands, companies and other groups trying to use it to promote their content. How did you negotiate that?
I’d seen some publishers have success doing it, specifically The Washington Post and The Dallas Morning News, and I listened to journalists who had done it before me, who essentially told me that Reddit was like a cocktail party. You can break into it, but you have to be smart, patient, polite, respectful. You can’t go in too loud.
So when I made it my focus to build our audience there, the first thing I did was meet with the local moderators, because they have a very good subreddit. They’re basically the gatekeepers of all the content that gets published on the biggest Arizona-centric forums. Their subreddits have audiences of around 56,000 and 75,000, in Arizona and Phoenix respectively.
But like I said, Reddit has a very specific culture, and they don’t like when people go there to promote their own stuff just to get popular. You really need to post information that’s high-quality, useful, cool or funny. You also can’t post too frequently or link-dump or you’ll get downvoted, which takes your post out of view.
So the way I tried to balance building our brand while respecting Reddit’s culture was by meeting with the moderators, building relationships with them, letting them know what our mission was and getting to know them as people.
We figured out from them how to best serve that audience, and it’s done really well for us.
As long as there’s that mutual respect between the moderators and publishers, it can work. I talk to the moderators fairly frequently, and in the Phoenix subreddits they’ve given us the label of “official media,” which feels more valuable than any blue checkmark I could get on Twitter. It’s an indicator that you’ve been accepted into the community as a regular contributor.
Specifically, you’ve championed an initiative to have Arizona Republic journalists do Ask Me Anythings (AMAs) on Reddit. What does that look like?
The AMAs have been a huge way we’ve been able to better serve our audience, especially now with the pandemic, where people have an urgent need for quick, accurate information. Basically, I coordinate with USA Today to coordinate with Reddit, and then I coordinate with the local Phoenix moderators and our reporters. When all those pieces come together, we get some really productive AMAs with a lot of good questions.
After a while, people start to recognize our name more, and then they begin to associate our brand more with high-quality information, especially about the pandemic.
So would you say that that publishers overlooking Reddit are losing out on a really beneficial potential audience?
Yeah absolutely. I would say that if your local Reddit community is very active and filled with an audience that loves to read, I would definitely plug into it.
As you mentioned earlier, you’re part of the team that runs The Republic’s Twitter account, but your personal Twitter account is also very popular; it’s how I found out about you! What would you ascribe your burgeoning Twitter success to?
[Laughs] Twitter is the first thing I think about when I wake up, and it’s the last thing I think about before I go to bed. It is, unfortunately, the social platform that controls my life.
In terms of my success, I have a formula that’s basically: tweet in lower-case letters, take memes and make them about journalism, and get to know a lot of other good journalists.
Also, it sounds terrible, but when I got verified, that’s when things started really accelerating. Verified journalists tend to follow and interact with other verified journalists.
In college, I would follow verified journalists and they wouldn’t follow me back, but when I got the checkmark, people started following me back. It’s a fairly toxic reality, but I can see why it’s a thing. The checkmark is my brain now.
What’s one trend in media/journalism that you predict will gain popularity this year?
More newsrooms are seeing the need for a more direct connection with their audience, whether that be through AMAs or text updates or some other more intimate dialogue. Especially because of Covid, I think instant, direct communication between reporters and readers will definitely become more popular this year.