Yesterday, Lucy Westcott, a graduate student at the University of Maryland’s Merrill College of Journalism who hails from the U.K., was exiting a DC Metro station during her morning commute and saw an ad that wreaked of ridiculousness. She snapped a picture of it and Tweeted it out. Within 5 minutes she became a social media sensation and got a crash course in viral journalism that is still spiraling with no immediate end in sight.
Women You Should Know spoke with Lucy, via phone today, to get her thoughts on all the media attention and parody Tweets her pic/Tweet received. She tells us that yesterday was an overwhelming rush of Twitter activity and news coverage (friends in the U.K. called to tell her she was on Buzzfeed), while today is all about phone interviews… our call followed one she had just had with The Washington Post.
The 23 year old Woman You Should Know, who is graduating from her master’s program in 3 weeks, told us she always wanted to be a journalist and that she is only in the U.S. now thanks to a scholarship she received last year. So to be in the journalistic power position she’s in today, compliments of an innocent Tweet, Lucy finds it exciting, slightly alarming and really quite astonishing.
As the Political Correspondent for the Capital News Service, a student-staffed news wire operated by the University of Maryland’s College of Journalism, she said she just wishes that the piece she recently spent days researching and writing got as much traction as her Tweet did… her story was about how the Whigs, the 19th century political party that disbanded before the Civil War over the question of slavery, are trying to make a comeback. While interesting, not quite the stuff of viral magic.
Lucy proves that there are still young women in the media who care about calling out blatant sexist messaging and we applaud her for using her social media skills for the greater good.
Today I experienced what every young journalist dreams of: I went viral.
Sure, I have written the news, and even broken some. I’ve had stories picked up in far-flung places like Sydney, Australia or Bozeman, Montana. But there is something very peculiar, even frightening, about watching something you create spin completely out of your hands and spill into what seems like every corner of the Internet.
I have a tendency to notice the ridiculous and I put that down to being a Brit in the U.S. (You too would take a photo of a man wearing a cowboy hat fashioned from a Bud Light box if he was stood in front of you at the supermarket.)
“…there is something very peculiar, even frightening, about watching something you create spin completely out of your hands…” Walking up the Metro escalator to work in Washington this morning, I caught the ad out the corner of my eye, the two obviously Photoshopped women having a misguided conversation about train mileage and shoes. I immediately went back down there, snapped a picture, and considered tweeting it to my less than 200 followers. (Throughout the day I gained around 20 Twitter followers, including one solely dedicated to Caribbean cruise giveaways, and it troubles me to think what I would have had to tweet to get more.)
I nearly forgot to post it, but eventually did, including the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Twitter handle (@wmata) just to remind them that this poster exists in public, and DCist (@DCist), a hyperlocal blog that covers all things DC. Within a matter of minutes, away it went.
Over the next few hours I did barely anything as the tweet took on a life of its own. There was nothing I could do to stop it, and I briefly considered deleting it because the amount of attention it was getting was alarming to reserved British me. What if I had posted something so much worse than my relatively tame and passive aggressive photo of a dumb transit sign? People do it every day and their lives are essentially ruined.
The combination of a slow news day, the Internet’s appetite for poor attempts at visual communication by sloppy marketing departments, and the glee at partaking in collective outrage fueled the tweet and made it viral.
All I did was take the picture and give my permission for other news outlets to use it. All I did was see it. It was on TV when I got home, and the anchorman’s voice was tinged with amusement at what passes for news these days.
Going viral isn’t hard, and it’s largely up to what the Internet feels like getting mad about that day. But I am left with visions of Danny DeVito shouting about the “virus video” in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which illustrates how ultimately futile these flashes and flurries are anyway.
More About Lucy
Lucy Westcott is a 23-year-old graduate journalism student and reporter at the Capital News Service, where she covers politics and business in Maryland. She grew up in Swindon, U.K. and the northwest suburbs of Chicago, where she was inspired to cover U.S. politics after watching Saturday Night Live‘s take on the 2000 presidential election.
When she’s not making tweets go viral, she can be heard providing the British perspective on the Capital Hill Blues radio show in Washington, D.C., and preparing to graduate with her master’s in journalism.
Lots of parody Tweets have emerged in the viral tidal wave that Lucy caused. She tells WYSK that this is her favorite from @MeghanMcCarthy.