Let Me Sum Up

Horrific explosion in West, Texas, shows how we feel impact of tragedy through social media

West explosion shows how we experience tragedy via social media

It’s astonishing how much there is to sum up this morning, and how awful the lead story is.

If you live outside of Texas, you may not know how iconic the small town of West is. Everyone has stopped there for kolaches on the way to or from Austin. Everyone is fascinated by a small Texas village largely founded by Czech immigrants. That familiarity only added to the horror as we watched the news reports and read stories overnight about the fertilizer plant that caught fire and exploded.

I got much of my news from Twitter last night, and its real-time updating showed the power of the medium. That said, if you follow a lot of journalists on social media, you notice there’s always some sort of virtual fist-bumping that goes on whenever a tragedy strikes.

I don’t really care that news people worked hard delivering the story. It’s their job. The only journalists I want to praise — Channel 8 news reader John McCaa comes to mind — are the folks who were unafraid to say, “Don’t know.” How many are dead? “Don’t know.” How did this happen? “Don’t know.” In the first hours after such a tragedy, sometimes that’s the right answer.

What else should we have expected from those who brought this news to us? That they used their expertise and sources to tell us the few things that are known and provide context. The excellent environmental reporter Randy Lee Loftis of the Dallas Morning News did that last night, pointing to documents that showed the plant operators had previously told the EPA there was “no risk” of fire or explosions at the plant. 

What should not be done in the immediate aftermath of such an explosion? Even though he may have a point, I found Tod Robberson's weird rant against zoning laws oddly timed. Even he says in the piece that this isn't the time to look for blame, so why post it then? 

What does deserve note this morning? The heart-wrenching personal notes, remembrances and prayers that have been put out through our friends and acquaintances through social media. Example: Many reminded us to donate blood — which is good advice today and for days and weeks to come — as any surplus today will quickly disappear. (Search here for where to give by ZIP code.) 

The tragedy is still fresh and ongoing this morning, and prayers or well wishes are still needed. One friend alerted his followers that his aunt, who was in the nursing home across from the plant, was still unaccounted for. Zac Crain, the D Magazine editor who grew up in West, wrote a heart-wrenching essay on FrontBurner this morning. You should read it right now, then add him and those he speaks of to your prayer list. It’s sure to grow as the day moves along.

Elsewhere

There were many stories I thought I would be focusing on this morning, foremost among them the cowardly vote by the U.S. Senate on background checks. Luckily, two people made a better statement about it than I could have: Gabrielle Giffords, in a scathing and powerful New York Times op-ed; and my friend Jim Fields, a former Navy pilot and lifelong gun owner and hunter, on Facebook.  

And, oh yeah, 400 flights were canceled because of computer problems at American Airlines. To sum up: bad year for AA.

To those who say the Jennifer Staubach Gates campaign for City Council is using her father’s fame to boost her name ID, I have some ’80s slang for you: no doi. 

This battle over noise between Angela Hunt and Katy Trail Ice House has been brewing behind the scenes for years. (Sorry. Couldn't help myself.)

Retweets

Another post worth reading this morning.

If you don’t get chills or tear up, kill yourself, because you’re already dead.

Smoke cloud rises from the West, Texas plant explosion
This picture of the West explosion was quickly shared through social media. Andy Bartee/KVUE.com
American Airlines new look
American Airlines flights were not doing much flying yesterday. Photo courtesy of American Airlines
Katy Trail Ice House in Dallas
Angela Hunt is saying she will do whatever she can to quiet the Katy Trail Ice House. Katy Trail Ice House/Facebook