Gone are the days when you had to find the news to stay informed. The news, tragic or otherwise, will always find you.
On Sunday, as news organizations reported a horrific shooting in an Orlando nightclub, phones lit up across time zones — on nightstands, under pillows, in pockets and in hands — glowing with texts, notifications and alerts. So many push alerts.
But that’s what kept Blake Roytek of Chicago in the loop.
“It’s important to note that it was Sunday morning, therefore I did not wake up to CNBC as I would on a weekday,” the self-identified news junkie said.
Several Washington Post employees asked their social media networks to tell us how they first received the news of the Orlando shooting. This is what we found.
For those who prefer to spend their Sundays breaking from their work-week routine, a push alert when major news happens can be their first interaction with media for the day. Such was the case for the majority of people who responded to our call-outs. The CNN, New York Times, Associated Press, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post apps were among the most common sources of push notifications.
Push notifications from Katie Rivas’s GroupMe app beat her CNN push alert by just a few minutes. The urgent messages were from her work colleagues. “Contact interns in Orlando ASAP,” a message read.
Rivas, an IT consultant who lives in Georgia and who was on vacation in Europe, watched from afar. “They are in Orlando for their ‘intern challenge,’” Rivas said via direct message. “It’s the first week of their internship and they were about 0.5 miles away from the incident.”
Chicagoan Dave Adams got another kind of push alert. Scrolling on Sunday, in the midst of “likes” and comments, he saw something he had not seen before: Facebook alerted him that one of his friends in Orlando had been marked safe.
Adams didn’t even stop to check the news. First, he texted the friend and “then went back to Facebook to see what the hell had happened,” he said.
Facebook introduced the Safety Check feature in 2014. According to Facebook, Sunday’s Safety Check in Orlando was triggered by a “community-generated” effort to report on statuses of users’ friends and family. It was the first time Facebook deployed the feature in the United States.
“I got notifications all within a half-hour from three of my family members who live in Orlando,” said Katelyn Lewis of Georgia. “I woke up to the notifications, and after the third, I took to a Google search on my phone.”
Of Lewis’s 10 friends in Orlando, eight had marked themselves “safe” on Facebook.
Not even the “pretty” social-media platforms, in their promised havens of smoothie bowls and dog-face filters, were immune to becoming news providers. More than 715,000 Instagram users posted photos using the #PrayforOrlando hashtag, and Snapchat users browsing stories in Discover found a live update from Snapchatters in Florida.
Liana Miller, who lives in Minneapolis, felt a bit embarrassed to admit that she found out about the shooting from Khloe Kardashian’s Instagram account. It’s the first app Miller checks in the morning and the last place she expects to learn of developing national news.
“I think there are a lot of people like me who go online for entertainment purposes only,” she said via a direct message. “We live in such an information dense society. And I personally feel like it’s overwhelming.”
But what about weekend unpluggers, the folks who are not nose-deep in Twitter at any given moment?
Sure, those who spent their Sunday deliberately free from computers, phones, TVs and radios spared themselves the inundation of early-morning push notifications and program-interrupting news breaks. But those alerts were replaced by equally unavoidable updates from some rather unexpected sources.
Take Kristen Jones Campbell, who learned of the shooting while approaching the San Mateo Bridge, in the San Francisco Bay, in her car. The news came not through her radio speakers but from on the overpass itself.
“They were holding a sign above the highway that said something like, ‘SF sending love to Orlando’ and had a rainbow flag,” Campbell said. “Lots of people were honking at them. I had to look it up when I got home.”
Lisa and Hazen Dempster’s pastor told congregants about an “act of terrorism” in Orlando during their 11:15 a.m. service at an Atlanta-area church that morning. Rosemary Schouten, in a tiny French village, found out from her neighbors. Loren Benoit heard the news aired over the PA system at Seattle’s Safeco Field as the Mariners prepared to face the Texas Rangers.
In an era of Twitter Moments, push alerts and other constant news delivery, in-person news can sometimes be the toughest to digest of them all. “I was so disoriented to hear bad news in person rather than from a screen, I hardly knew how to react,” said Ester Bloom, an editor at the Billfold who spent the evening nursing her newborn and found out from her husband.
And among those who actively seek out news updates even on a quiet weekend morning is Meredith Dean of North Carolina, whose unconventional approach to staying informed proves just how ubiquitous “news providers” really are.
“Alexa, what’s the news for today?” she asked her Amazon Echo.
Upon request, the device deferred to an NPR briefing that began broadcasting updates from Orlando throughout Dean’s studio apartment.
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