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GOLIS: When news and politics go viral

  • In this June 25, 2013 file photo, Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, is seen during her filibuster of an abortion bill, Tuesday, June 25, 2013, in Austin, Texas. The bill will get another chance next week now that the Gov. Rick Perry has called another special legislative session. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

It was a few minutes before midnight, Texas time, and 183,000 of us were watching the Texas state Senate fall to pieces. Amid the shouting and the gamesmanship, here was compelling theater streaming live to our computer screens, and people all over the country were watching.

This kind of immediacy would have been impossible a few years ago. No one could imagine watching the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors from the comfort of his or her living room, much less the Texas state legislature.

Back then, a late-night story about an anti-abortion bill in a distant state would have been nothing more than a second-day news story about a filibuster. The Texas state Senate could have finished its business without worrying about what Americans might think. Or remember.

Welcome, dear senators, to the digital age — and all the ways that technology is revolutionizing journalism and politics.

As Twitter spread the word of a drama unfolding in Texas on Tuesday evening, the online audience kept growing — 141,000, 153,000, 169,000 ... People were watching in real time and simultaneously monitoring a rush of reporting and commentary via Twitter.

And, of course, the politicians engaged in the debate also were monitoring in real time how the nation was reacting. (Tech journals reported that in the moments before midnight, the Texas filibuster was generating almost 6,000 tweets per minute.)

The so-called 24-hour cable news channels were airing re-runs of earlier news shows — thus sparing viewers from the faux drama of so many cable shows.

What viewers saw in Texas were real people, under pressure, scrambling to score a political victory. This debate was authentic — a word not often used to describe cable news.

Credit goes to the Texas Tribune, the online news organization that sponsored the livestream.

In the beginning, viewers came to see a drama out of "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." A Democratic senator from Fort Worth named Wendy Davis was determined to remain on her feet and keep talking until the midnight deadline passed and the anti-abortion bill, SB 5, died. The Republican majority was no less determined to use parliamentary objections, real or imagined, to cut off her filibuster.


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