Lariat-produced video of Margie Phelps reaches 56,000 hits
By Stephen Strobbe
Visitors attempting to access the Baylor Lariat’s website Tuesday morning were greeted with a message saying the site was temporarily down after a huge influx of traffic from a user’s post on the social news website Reddit.
Paul Carr, director of student publications, said he received an email before 8 a.m. Tuesday saying the Lariat website was down along with all of the other sites running on Baylor’s WordPress server.
Carr said the technical support people for the server identified the shutdown was due to a massive amount of traffic heading toward the Lariat website from Reddit, aided by a link to a video of Margie Phelps angrily responding to student journalists.
Technical support chose to block referrals from Reddit to the Lariat’s site in order to get the newspaper’s site back online.
Reddit is a social news website where front page content is determined by users’ votes. According to Reddit’s frequently asked questions, “Reddit is a source for what’s new and popular on the web. … Links that receive community approval bubble up towards #1, so the front page is constantly in motion and (hopefully) filled with fresh, interesting links.”
Reddit, unlike other social media sites, is unique in that any user can create a “sub-reddit” which acts as a sub-community within the larger Reddit community, focused on a specific topic.
One of the most popular sub-reddits is “IAMA,” with approximately 188,000 subscribers.
The original poster of an IAMA would say “I am a…” (for instance, “I am a person who just ate a burrito…”) and then post information about themselves and allow other users to “ask me anything.”
The traffic reaching the Lariat’s website came when a Reddit user named nateure posted a story to the IAMA sub-reddit chronicling his visit to the College Media Advisers’ 2011 spring college media convention at the Marriot Marquis Times Square in New York City.
One of the speakers at the event was Margie Phelps of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church. The church has gained increased notoriety since a recent 8-1 Supreme Court ruling in favor of the church’s first amendment rights to picket outside military funerals.
A brief confrontation arose when nateure asked Phelps why the church’s inflammatory website GodHatesFags.com was down. The site was allegedly offline due to the online activist group Anonynmous. After Phelps denied the site was down, nateure said he “was shocked to hear a flat-out denial, but [he] pressed. ‘Well, I just checked, and it is…’ The crowd burst into applause upon hearing my reply, and Phelps did NOT look happy.”
The post on Reddit by nateure was titled “I burned Margie Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church at a Q & A panel in NYC. Everybody went nuts. AMA.”
As of 10 p.m. Tuesday, the post had more than a thousand up-votes and was one of the top-scoring stories in the IAMA sub-reddit yesterday afternoon.
A Baylor Lariat video produced by Jed Dean, photo editor, and edited by Ted Harrison, multimedia producer, captured the confrontation and was subsequently linked within nateure’s story. The link led to the huge amount of traffic on the Lariat’s website. As of 10 p.m. Tuesday, the video had been viewed 56,019 times. The Lariat video was coupled with an article written by Lariat reporter Sally Ann Moyer.
“We had students in New York City for a college media conference. We knew this woman was going to be there so we made sure that our students had camera gear, took notes and did a story,” Carr said. “The opportunities Baylor provides to go to some of these conferences and to meet these newsmakers is the value that the university provides to our students.”
Nick Dean, editor-in-chief of the Baylor Lariat, said he woke up Tuesday and discovered the site was down. After realizing it was not due to any type of system failure but rather due to the amount of traffic heading to the site from Reddit, Dean said he was shocked at the number of views the video had received.
“It’s a good video. Westboro is kind of a hot-button issue and it just shows that people are interested in it,” Dean said. “We are some of the only people to have video from that session and that’s because we were able to send people to New York and then get the people on staff to edit it together. It’s a scoop. I mean it’s what we talk about in journalism all the time.”
“In an odd way, it’s a compliment that our system crashed because of the attention to this one video. But it speaks to the fact that our students were out there covering the news,” Carr said.