THE BLOG
06/26/2013 08:02 pm ET | Updated Aug 26, 2013

The Power of Social: We, the Reporter

At 2:17 a.m. Central Time, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards read aloud a text from Dem. State Senator Wendy Davis: "The Lt Gov has agreed - SB5 is dead." At 2:29 a.m. CT, 12 minutes after hundreds of Texas supporters broke out in cheers in the Rotunda in a moment captured by photographs, Vines, Instagrams, and Tweets, I posted from the Twitter account of the startup I intern at: "Wendy Davis confirms #SB5 is dead after Texas GOP attempts to change timestamp on vote. Powerful example of social media spreading awareness"

As of 3:30 a.m. CT, the New York Times, the Guardian, CNN, BBC and the AP either had yet to break the victory or reported, incorrectly, that the bill had been passed.

Yesterday, Davis attempted an 11-hour marathon filibuster of Senate Bill 5, which would make abortion illegal after 20 weeks with no exceptions for rape or incest victims and create more stringent requirements for abortion facilities. Throughout Davis' filibuster, which had to last from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m., she was not allowed to lean on anything for support, use the bathroom or eat. The GOP ultimately ended her filibuster by citing three instances throughout her speech where she touched on topics "not germane" to the bill (the topics: Planned Parenthood, sonograms and Roe v. Wade). As the clock ticked down, Republicans attempted to ram the bill through, but the rising shouts of Davis supporters throughout the Rotunda made it nearly impossible to tell whether the vote was accomplished before or after the midnight deadline. The meeting was suspended.

Amid the ensuing chaos, social media reared its head. Over 180,000 people watched the live YouTube stream of the filibuster -- Obama even tweeted a link to watch -- as there was no major network coverage of the full event. In total, users posted 730,000 tweets about the filibuster at a peak of 5,776 per minute in the minutes leading up to midnight. Nothing was free from the all-seeing eyes of the Internet. So when the Texas legislature was caught red-handed changing the timestamp on the final vote from 6/26/2013 to 6/25/2013, spectators went into a frenzy. Side-by-side screenshot comparisons blew up Reddit and Twitter, but Republicans stayed the course that they had completed the vote on time. Soon enough, question marks turned to exclamation points: SB5 was dead. Freelance journalist Andrea Grimes tweeted a Vine of supporters erupting with cheers as Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards read out Davis' celebratory text in the Rotunda. Hours later, Republicans admitted they had not completed the vote on time.

Yet for at least half an hour after Richards' announcement, major news sources had nothing but radio silence.

So where were the breaking reporters? They were there. But they didn't wear press passes or clutch at voice recorders. Instead, they donned orange shirts, raising their iPhone 5s to document it all.

We saw it happen in Boston. As major news sources were just starting to report that an MIT officer had been shot, a friend who attends Tufts University was texting me about reports of a carjacking, a bomber possibly dead on the ground, and explosives being thrown from the stolen vehicle, all just a town over from her Medford campus. Twitter confirmed, as #Watertown and #Boston were trending. It was not the first time social media was involved in propagating the news, but for many, it was their first time watching it firsthand. Boston shed a new light on a journalism perpetuated by the people: the news never sleeps, and major reporters got caught dozing.

The inherent problem preventing today's news outlets from matching the timeliness and virality of social messages is accuracy. Media networks can suffer major setbacks for presenting and promoting information they can't be certain is true, whether it's a tangible monetary impact or an intangible destruction of credibility. By breaking a story to a global audience, reporters must take the leap of faith and accept the potential consequences of being wrong for the rewards that come with being the first to be right. More often than not, they wait to get their facts straight.

My startup's Twitter following of 11.3k is small change in the face of @NYTimes' 8.6 million, so I have a much smaller opportunity cost of posting a potentially inaccurate update. This isn't something that will change -- major news media outlets will always have more at stake than the average teenage girl or social media startup account -- but it continues to speak to the future of reporting. And for the first time, I was an informer, not a spectator.

I was glued to my screen for the hour leading up to midnight. When I caught the first wind that SB5 had, after all, been defeated, I was ecstatic. But it was 12:20 a.m. in California. All my text contacts were asleep. My Twitter following was either subtweeting or posting nostalgic pictures of last weekend's EDC, and it's not a very large pool to begin with -- 160 people, many of whom are on the East Coast. So I turned to work, where I am a marketing intern with influence over a diverse following of 11,000+ people, some of whom have hundreds of thousands of followers. And I helped break the news. In four minutes, my tweet had 18 RTs. In 15 minutes, it had 50. I refreshed the search query "Wendy Davis" to find that the rest of Twitter was catching up. A little over an hour later, when BuzzFeed and CNN re-entered the Twitterverse, my tweet had 200 RTs and 60 favorites and had reached more than 300,000 people. In the early hours of June 26, as the media seemed to sleep, thousands of people propped their laptops up on their pajama pants and did the job for them. SB5 is dead, but the power of social media is more alive than ever.