How do you draw attention to a news story that has happened time and time again? How do you get lawmakers to avoid complacency on an issue that has plagued American cities for decades? How do you get the news cycle to stop for one moment in the sea of tweets, cable news, and punditry?
The Boston Globe’s editorial board wrestled with these questions in the hours after the Pulse nightclub shooting last June. After Columbine, after Newtown, after Aurora, there had to be an editorial that offered a direct path, not to eliciting tired emotions and empty rhetoric — but instead to concrete and acute action.
The result was Make it Stop.
Online, readers got a discomfiting lesson in ballistics as an animated graphic peppered the screen with the same velocity as spray from the assault weapon used in the attack. We also offered interactive graphics to explain how we’d gotten here — who profited from this type of weaponry and who in government allowed to it happen. Visitors spent an average of nearly eight minutes on the page.
Still, we felt it our duty to build a call to action, one that could show the ferocity of gun violence and bring pressure to bear on key lawmakers. We made it easy for our readers to email and tweet at six senators opposed to gun control legislation. They ultimately sent more than 8,800 tweets and 10,000 emails.
On Twitter, the @BostonGlobe account tweeted out the names, ages, and place of death for every victim of a mass shooting since the expiration of the federal assault weapons ban in 2004. These tweets took place at five-minute intervals and lasted for more than 30 hours. The hashtag #MakeItStop became a top trending topic on Twitter and Facebook. In aggregate, the tweets had more than 6 million impressions, were retweeted more than 25,000 times, and were ‘favorited’ 20,000 times.
On Facebook, we produced a 52-second video, visualizing with motion graphics the trauma a bullet from an AR-15 rifle can cause to a body’s internal organs. The video was viewed 485,000 times, shared more than 4,000 times, and resulted in 3,400 comments and 4,600 reactions.
In the days following Make It Stop, New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte changed her vote on a key gun control measure after scores and score of Globe readers emailed and tweeted dissatisfaction at her poor record on gun control. In November, she lost her seat. In Massachusetts, Attorney General Maura Healey tightened restrictions on assault weapons.
It wasn’t one specific feature of the Make it Stop package that resulted in action. It was the entirety of the unique and innovative digital storytelling, across all platforms, that led to impact. Politicians still need and value citizens’ voices, but they must be reached in ways that they can’t tune out. Journalism can be that megaphone for readers — to be a voice for the voiceless, to hold the powerful accountable and tell essential truths. Make It Stop showed that impact.