Twitter in a Time of Tragedy

I remember when the Boston Marathon bombing happened. I was at my desk, going about what should have been a normal, uneventful day. I was probably working on a story, turning to my Twitter feed every few minutes for a distraction. Buzzfeed had a list of funny Kim Kardashian quotes, Jimmy Fallon was playing a game with his celebrity guest, Food 52 had just tweeted out a new recipe, and that stupid Bob’s Burger’s parody account I follow was making puns—like I said, a pretty normal day. And then the first tweet went live: Explosion at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

This is the world we live in today, where a single moment can change your life, and for those of us on the sidelines, we have to watch the chaos unfold from the scrolling feed of our social media accounts.

Since the launch of Twitter in 2006, the term ‘real-time reporting’ has taken a precedence, requiring journalists to report the news as soon as they possibly can, starting first with a brief, 140 character post, which buys them about five minutes to get the first news story onto their website. That initial tweet is crucial though—social media has created the desire for immediate gratification in younger generations, and once we see that first tweet, we are left craving more.

For professional news sources, juggling that immediacy with accuracy has become somewhat of an art form. Keeping up with competition requires breaking the story before everyone else, reporting as the news develops, but if you get something wrong, the backlash seems to be greater than in the past. I remember with the Sandy Hook shooting, an incredibly sensitive story to cover, how accuracy was so important. And yet so many news sources were putting incorrect information out there—some made the situation seem less drastic, others made it seem worse. It took me a while to sift through the chatter to find the sources that were actually taking the time to confirm their report before putting it out there (which ironically was the BBC, who tweeted information five minutes after the other US sites).

So what exactly prompted me to discuss Twitter’s role in breaking news? Well, unfortunately, once again we have to watch tragedy unfold, this time at the Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., where a shooter opened fire around 10:38 a.m. PCT. By 11:38 a.m. PCT, reports confirmed the shooter was in custody, while the death toll stood at 10, with another 20 plus reported injured. The numbers are still rising, and I’m sure by the 10 p.m. news we’ll have a better idea of what happened. Until then, we wait and watch the reports trickle in over social media.

It’s heartbreaking to hear about another shooting. My good friend, Michele Richinick, over at Newsweek has spent much of her career writing about gun laws, and how our nation is shaped by gun-related tragedy. Today, she tweeted out that this is the 142nd reported shooting at a school since Sandy Hook.

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That’s 142 times that lives were shattered. Students who should be rushing to finish their homework assignments instead were rushing to escape; to save their lives. We can argue for years about gun control, but the fact still remains that our current laws aren’t working. You can always read more about my thoughts on gun control here.

What was unique to the coverage of this most recent horror though, was the tweet from one website. I’ve complained before about how it irritates me that during a time of crises, many Twitter handles are still posting links to completely irrelevant things, and it always makes me angry. While I wait for more updates about the situation, I can’t stand the tweets about a new hair product, or how some online personality ‘can’t even’ over the latest poster of Zach Efron. The man buns and national food holidays that occupy our airspace on regular days suddenly become obsolete during times of tragedy. Which was why this tweet from Refinery29 will stick out:

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They get it. They understand the importance of sensitivity. Because when the world stops, you suddenly realize what really matters.

Update, Friday, October 2, 2015, 10:15 a.m.:

This shooting has brought up a discussion topic that breaks my heart–mass shootings have become so common in our country, that we have a routine for it. You could sense the anger in Obama’s speech as he went through, yet again, the same speech about senseless violence killing innocent Americans. “Our thoughts and prayers are not enough,” he said, making a clear statement that action needs to be taken regarding gun control. Because, for F*CK sake, why the hell does this keep happening?!

I also HIGHLY recommend you read this piece from Newsweek reporter Polly Mosendz on the routine of a reporter covering a mass shooting. “Mass death is prewritten in America,” she tells us. This is where we stand, America.

Education for #62MillionGirls

Somewhere on that stage is Leonardo DiCaprio, talking about our effort to help fight climate change.

Somewhere on that stage is Leonardo DiCaprio, talking about our effort to help fight climate change.

“Feminist: the person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” The voice of Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks to a crowd of 60,000 on the Great Lawn of New York City’s Central Park—women and men of all ages and races gathering for one event: the annual Global Citizen Festival.

Created in 2012, the Global Citizen Festival is an effort to end extreme poverty by 2030. Through activist efforts on their website, Global Citizen requires supporters to tweet, sign petitions, send emails, and leave voice messages to help this cause, and in exchange, they are entered into a lottery to win tickets to the music festival. In past years, the festival has welcomed top artists including Foo Fighters, Stevie Wonder, and Jay-Z, but this year the draw to attend the event was at an all time high because Beyoncé was slated to perform (other headliners included Coldplay, Ed Sheeran, and Pearl Jam).

For me, seeing Beyoncé live was a huge draw to attend the show. Of course, I tried to pay attention to the efforts of Global Citizen while I checked off each required action to join the lottery, but once I had the tickets safely in my hands, my attention to the purpose of this event dwindled. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own lives, that we forget about the bigger picture—this show was the reward for our efforts, but it’s up to us to continue to work to help the cause throughout the year.

Beyoncé’s performance was one for the books. I can’t imagine how any person left that show Saturday night without a full ego boost, but I think that it was the words of the hosts and participating world leaders who took the time to stop by and talk to us that will stick with me. I have to commend the stage manager, or planner, or whoever was in charge of the production of this show. Putting Beyoncé’s performance before the main part of the festival was key—she gave us all that boost of energy and pride for being a woman before introducing First Lady Michelle Obama to the stage, kicking off a chain of celebrity names and speeches before we got to hear Malala Yousafzai speak (a moment that had me in tears).

Malala Yousafzai speaks at the 2015 Global Citizen Festival on September 26, 2015.

Malala Yousafzai speaks at the 2015 Global Citizen Festival on September 26, 2015.

Her message was powerful—the key to creating a more peaceful world is not pushing our money towards military, but to education. In countries where women have access to education, they see more peace and prosperity, she said. But that isn’t the case everywhere—Michelle Obama said that right now, there are 62 million girls out there without access to education. That’s 62 million voices that could contribute to our world, bringing peace and working to end poverty in their own countries, if we can just show our world leaders the importance of providing education to everyone. Malala echoed the importance of educating the youth of today, because they are our future.

So that’s why we need to participate in Michelle Obama’s new campaign, #62MillionGirls, because like she said, “When girls aren’t given the chance to realize their potential, the whole world loses out.” It’s Feminism at its core—these girls are denied education because of their gender, and it is time to work together to get them the same education provided to men. This isn’t a matter of men vs. women, it’s a matter of giving everyone the same chance.

How do we do this? To start, share a selfie with the hashtag #62MillionGirls along with a description of something you learned in school. Together, we can start a movement to help those 62 million girls.

I know for me, I would not be here without my education—it taught me how to be a strong, independent woman, with an awareness of how my talents can help our future. And I am very thankful for that.

It’s Time to Talk About Gun Control…Again

This morning, a gunman walked up to a news crew from the local broadcast station WDBJ7 in Moneta, VA. Two members of the news team, reporter Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, were shot and killed at close range while interviewing Vicki Gardner of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce around 6:45 a.m. on Wednesday, August 26. Gardner was also shot and was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. Reports say she is recovering.

The gunman, a former employee of WDBJ7, Vester Lee Flanigan, also known as Bryce Williams, shot himself on I-66 in Faquier County, according to state police. He was late reported dead from hose self-inflicted wounds.

6:45 a.m.–Most of us were waking up at that hour, preparing for our days and catching the morning report from our local news stations. Local news stations like WDBJ7, who sent out their crews to cover the latest topics for the morning broadcast. But for these two young reporters, their day was already half over. I’m sure they were expecting a typical day—show up to work, do a simple piece with the Chamber of Commerce, cover a few other small reports, sign off and head home to go about their days. Newsweek reported that Ward had a job interview after his shift, a step up to the career he was still just starting. These two had so much to look forward to, so much left to give to this world. And in an instant, all that was gone.

These types of stories have become far too frequent in the web of today’s news. Without delving into the subtopics of race, poverty, etc. that also seem to haunt shootings, the story is always the same: the victims’ lives are cut short because the gunman decided the only way to be heard was to open fire. We’ve seen this happen countless times—in schools, in theaters, in places we once thought were safe. Ten years ago, it was unheard of to have your bags checked before entering a movie theater to enjoy a film. Now, kids smuggling in candy to the theater is the least of their worries.

But where do we draw the line? At what point will we acknowledge that gun control in this country is the problem?

In the wake of the most recent shooting, I took to Twitter to see what discussions arose from this tragedy. First, the sheer professionalism of the WDBJ7 staff shined through—with tweets remembering their colleagues, coupled with the live broadcast focused on the slain reporters’ lives and careers, the station kept their focus on the positive, while still providing updates on the hunt for the shooter. My heart broke watching the anchors talk about their colleagues, who they interacted with only hours before. You could sense that as soon as their job was done for the day, the only thing left to do was step off camera and cry. And for the loved ones of the victims—a boyfriend, a fiancée, parents, siblings, friends—their lives will never be the same.

As the day progressed, the back and forth about gun laws started to pick up. Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton called for gun reform, tweeting: “Heartbroken and angry. We must act to stop gun violence, and we cannot wait any longer. Praying for the victims’ families in Virginia.” Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe echoed these sentiments, saying it’s time again to address laws against gun violence.

I feel that each time a shooting occurs (something that is far more frequent now than in the past), the same arguments come out. The anti-gun side argues for stricter laws, while the pro-gun advocates say that we just need to prevent killers from getting their hands on guns. But what constitutes a ‘killer’? How can we prevent ‘killers’ from getting their hands on guns when many are not yet killers? Isn’t the soul purpose for a gun is to kill? What other practical use does it have? The reality isn’t some liberal conspiracy to take away your guns—it’s that our current system isn’t working, and it’s time for change.

I will admit that if I was in charge, there would be extremely strict requirements over gun ownership. In fact, I’d like to see a world where civilians had no need for guns, but I also know that that scenario would never happen—in a government base off balance, there is always room for compromise, even with the issues you feel strongest about. That’s why gun control needs to remain at the top of our list, because the current system just isn’t working. How many more innocent lives must we lose before we make a lasting change?

Just Another Typical Thursday

2016 Republican Candidates from Thursday, August 6 debate.

2016 Republican Candidates from Thursday, August 6 debate.

The world woke up today in a haze. It seems like over the past 12 hours, we’ve experienced this emotional roller coaster–our night was chock filled with ups and owns as we watched America’s top 10 contenders debate over who will be Hillary’s runner up the Republican candidate in the 2016 presidential election, and swiftly changed over to Comedy Central to bid farewell to our beloved Jon Stewart.

Let’ start with the debate, and oh what a debate it was! Trump vs. Bush, Christie vs. Paul, FOX vs. Trump, the verbal punches were coming from every angle. But what did we get out of the debate? Here’s my take away:

– The Republicans are STILL bitter about New Jersey’s Governor, Chris Christie, hugging Obama. Answering a question on NSA spying, Christie cited his experience with the Patriot Act post-9/11 as to why these surveillances can aid against future attacks. Senator Rand Paul, who has criticized this overall program, calling it a violation of the Fourth Amendment, was quick to jump in to defend himself, turning the conversation into one of the more entertaining back and forths of the night, ending ultimately with Paul delivering a mic drop to Christie: “I don’t trust President Obama with our records. I know you gave him a big hug, and if you want to give him a big hug again, go right ahead.”

– Social Issues, specifically Women’s Health and trending topic #BlackLivesMatter, were not worth the candidates’ time. These topics weren’t addressed until the final 20 minutes of the debate, and we barely touched the surface. Maybe those conversations are set aside for a later date, but with the recent (like 48 hours earlier) blocking of the Republican’s attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, you would think that this would be the time to talk about it. They did address abortions though, which is always what I love to see–ten white men trying to tell me what’s best for my body. Deep sigh.

– Ted Cruz is terrifying. Most of his actual debate was read right off of a cue card, but it was his closing statements that really stuck with me. In short, he’d reverse everything that the Obama administration achieved. He’d  take his own religious beliefs to the table, go to war with Planned Parenthood, and rescind the Iran deal he so avidly opposes. Of course, after the bell told him to shut up, he had to throw in that his father fled from Cuba. Just FYI.

– Ohio Governor John Kasich actually did well. One of the lesser-known candidates in the pool, he was thrown a question about same sex marriage, and how he would address the issue to his children. Ask this to any of the other guys there, and they’d throw in statements about how homosexuality is against the Bible, and blah blah blah, but Kasich was very poignant. His general acceptance of same sex marriage might give him a boost over the other candidates down the line. Maybe?

– Scott Walker and Marco Rubio debate well. You forget that some of these clowns can actually make a point without jumping down each other’s throats.

– Jeb Bush and Donald Trump go head to head. Over the past few weeks, Bush, who was as surprised as many of us about Trump throwing his name into the hat, has called Trump a “Buffoon” and an “Asshole,” but denied such allegations when confronted during the debate. The best moment to me was when Trump addressed Bush’s statements, causing Bush to step back for a moment just to smile.

Bush Thoughts:

Bush Thoughts: “Why wasn’t I invited to his wedding?!”

– FOX News doesn’t even want Trump to be President. For the other nine candidates, the focus was on the issues, but each time it was Trump’s turn to speak, FOX superstar Megyn Kelly (I think she won the debate) threw facts on top of the questions to show viewers just how awful Trump is. In the first three minutes, she pointed out his misogynistic tendencies–“You’ve called women fat pigs, dogs, slobs, disgusting animals,” she said to Trump. His response: “Only Rosie O’Donnell.” THAT was by far the worst comment of the night. It had nothing to do with the election, nothing to do with the issues. It was Trump, once again putting himself front and center and showing the world that yes, he is in fact a horrible person. If elected, he’d guarantee to make his own personal problems his main concern, starting with insulting the women he dislikes. Is that really what we want? Absolutely not. (Side note: Rosie, you did not deserve that low blow. Keep your head up, the majority knows that that statement was rude, crude, and absolutely wrong.).

Relationship Goals.

Relationship Goals.

Luckily, after two hours of watching Cleveland burn, we were granted with part two of evening–the finale of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I don’t have much to say as of yet, but it was the high note I needed to wash the taste of GOP morons out of my mouth before bed. My thoughts:

– It was all about the crew. I loved that Jon, who for the last 16 years has been the face of The Daily Show, made his last night about the people who helped make the show great. Really heartwarming, and made me want to quit my job and stand outside of the studio with my resume.

– Stephen Colbert. In typical Colbert fashion, his entire speech was touching, with a dash of hilarity. The whole Lord of the Rings analogy had nerds like me cry consecutive happy/sad tears, but after his bit about Frodo (Jon) leading the way, he said what we all needed to say: Thank you, Jon. Colbert wouldn’t have his job without Jon Stewart. Steve Carrell, John Oliver, so many great comedians went on to amazing things because The Daily Show gave them a chance. (Sorry, I need to wipe my eyes again).

– Jon Stewart changed the news. Yes, The Daily Show was meant to be satire, but it turned into a reliable and entertaining phenomenon, which, through the years of jokes, gave us insight into the truth. And it gave us a personality that made us come back night after night. So thank you, Jon Stewart, for 16 glorious years. I can’t wait to see what you do next.

BONUS ROUND: In case you missed it, my girl Kimmy K. gave us a gift last night. This glorious selfie that says ‘Yes, I support Hillary.”

Kim breaks the Internet, again. (Hi Kanye!)

Kim breaks the Internet, again. (Hi Kanye!)

Where Will You Be for the GOP Debate?

Forget wedding bells, it’s election season, and you know what that means—bring on the debates! For the last few months, the road to the 2016 presidential primary was lined with announcements, so much so that I’ve become somewhat Pavlovian when I open my email each morning. Everyone wants to be president.

The fact that this man is leading the polls makes me very, very sad.

The fact that this man is leading the polls makes me very, very sad.

Since the race began, 16 members of the GOP have thrown their names into the hat. Some were expected—Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Rand Paul, and Jeb Bush came to no surprise for me—the first three for their open criticism of Obama’s tenure and their plans to reverse every policy Obama put into place, and the fourth just because he’s is genetically obligated to participate in nothing but politics, despite the fact that his true desires lie in a less conventional career path (see George W. Bush paintings). Other candidates came as more of a shock, especially the campaign of loud-mouthed Donald Trump, who for years has threatened to run for the White House, but always backed out last minute. Now, the man is monopolizing the media with his outlandish comments on Mexico, rape, John McCain, global warming (direct quote: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive”), I could go forever, baby.

Some have described the GOP’s ever-growing list of candidates as a ‘clown car,’ but really, it’s more of a shitstorm. Here we have 16 people who can’t agree on the important issues, and instead are picking their favorites and running with them to the polls. It’s almost hard to keep track of them, but for us Democrats, we just have to wait for this disaster to destroy itself, let the dust settle, and then figure out who we have to send our candidate (Hillary, perhaps?) into battle against. Luckily, Thursday we’ll get our first dose of GOP-produced entertainment with their first primary debate in Cleveland, Ohio, and aired on the ‘fair and balanced’ Fox News. Only the top 10 of the 16 will get a chance to debate, but I think we’re in for a treat. My hope is that we’ll be able to gather enough footage to rapid-produce a sequel to Judd Apatow’s 2015 summer blockbuster.


I’m also inviting you to join me on Twitter (@kelleighwelch) during the debate. I’ll be live-tweeting alongside my bottle of wine, so it’s sure to be a highlight of 2015. In the meantime, maybe brush up on the candidates, the New York Times has a great start. The first Republican Debate will air at 9 p.m. ET on Fox News.