Day in the Life: Tumblr’s head of social impact goes to the DNC

Victoria McCullough’s role at Tumblr is to know what millennials are talking about, then find ways to engage with its 307 million bloggers on those topics.

This week, that means the 31-year-old Tennessean is embedded in the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

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McCullough (L) with Tumblr artist Brian Butler.

“We’re here as liaisons between the platform, advocacy groups, social crowds, the community, and users,” said McCullough, whose role it is to partner with media organizations like MTV, Vox.com and Refinery29 for Tumblr-specific programs like IssueTime, a virtual Q-and-A panel on the platform. The idea is to create panels of advocates and experts on topics from the LGBT movement, gun violence, sexual health and race.

McCullough is no stranger to politics. As a “young and aimless college grad who cared about issues,” she joined Obama’s 2008 re-election campaign as a community organizer before going on to be the associate director of public engagement for the White House between 2011 and 2013.

Both in her role at the White House and now as Tumblr’s head of social impact and public policy, McCullough’s biggest challenge has been to turn highly sensitive and often polarizing topics into insightful public discourse. “If we don’t see a visceral response, we’re not doing our jobs,” she said, adding that her job is always a balancing act. “Police brutality and the larger race conversation are such incredibly sensitive topics. We have to be careful to make sure we bring in the right people and experts to cover all areas.”

Digiday asked McCullough to share a diary of what she did on a typical day at the DNC this week, to the extent that there is such a thing. Here’s how it went, edited slightly for clarity.

7:00 a.m: I drag myself out of bed to go for a run after a 2:00 a.m. bedtime last night. Due to delays from severe weather in Philly and a long opening night of A-list speakers at the convention, the closing gavel didn’t come down until midnight.

After years spent on political campaigns with their endless nights and early mornings, I’ve learned that even a few minutes of any physical activity — and the quiet time that comes with it — will give me the endurance to make it through the day.

8:30 a.m.: During breakfast, I listen to the NPR Politics podcast discussing the opening night of the convention and then tune into the local Philly affiliate to find out where protests, rallies and other activities will take place today. With little time to read through top stories, radio and podcasts have become my go-to source for news.

I take time to sketch out our schedule for the day and throw in some optional activities that I learned about last night. One of my goals today will be to get Tumblr’s social lead on the ground, Andy, and our Tumblr “creatr” artist Brian Butler into as many events as possible to provide the Tumblr community with inside access and a front-row seat to the convention activities.

10:00 a.m.: Andy, Brian and I walk over to the Vocal Majority gun-violence prevention rally in Logan Square, rolling up just in time to see former congresswoman Gabby Giffords and John Lewis energize the crowd on their demands for Congress to act on greater gun-safety measures. In addition to several other elected officials, we hear from parents whose children were victims of gun violence. Nearly every gun-safety advocacy group is present for the event.

Gun-violence prevention is among the primary issues Tumblr is focusing on for our 2016 election programming. While Brian wraps up his sketch from the event and Andy interviews attendees for our Snapchat story, I take note of the groups represented and connect with a couple of the mothers who have lost their sons to gun violence and are now a part of grassroots advocacy group, Moms in Charge. I also get their contact information for a follow-up call next week to discuss how we might engage their members.

12:30 p.m.: I meet with our convention credentials contact to retrieve Tumblr’s passes for the convention hall tonight. The handoff in the busy lobby of the Sheraton looks not unlike a cinematic drug deal exchange.

1:00 p.m.: Our next event is an Social Justice Awards Luncheon organized by the National Urban League. Leaders such as Rev. Al Sharpton, Human Rights Campaign executive director Chad Griffin, and Kathy Ko Chin, executive director of the Asian American Pacific Islander Health Forum, speak to the crowd about the need and power of unity among the civil rights and minority communities.

Following tragedies in Orlando, Baton Rouge and Dallas, there are many diverging voices in the activist communities on how to tackle the challenges. The conversations I have are a good reminder that we have to approach these issues on Tumblr with sensitivity and provide a balanced forum that recognizes the many perspectives around more effective community policing, education reform, and voter education and access.

3:00 p.m.: I run into my old colleague from the White House, Heather Foster, and we decide to get away from the madness for a late lunch to catch up on life and politics. As President Obama’s former liaison to the African American community, Heather has also been an informal adviser for me on all issues related to race — including gun violence, police brutality and education reform. We discuss ideas around Tumblr’s IssueTime Q&A series on Race and which voices we’ll want to feature on the platform.

5:00 p.m.: Next stop: “Cartoons and Cocktails,” one of Tumblr’s two sponsored events at the DNC. We have teamed up with First Look Media to support the re-launch of their political cartoon blog, The Nib. The venue is an art gallery displaying cartoon art that covers every aspect and personality of the 2016 election. These pieces are smart, funny and edgy in exactly the way that Tumblr users crave.

7:00 p.m.: After hearing remarks from comedians Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabalu, in addition to Matt Bors, editor of The Nib, the crowd starts the trek to the Wells Fargo Center to catch a few of the keynote speakers at the convention, including tonight’s headliner, Bill Clinton.

10:30 p.m: The tone and energy of the convention floor felt more positive and uplifting tonight with grand applause and shouts of support throughout the speeches. Yesterday’s room was filled with opposing chants and boos, but Bernie’s official endorsement and nomination of Hillary Clinton seems to have unified the majority of the delegates and attendees tonight. Former president Bill Clinton closed out the night and had much of the room in tears and on their feet, as has been the case with nearly every one of his major speeches.

We slowly make our way down to the Uber Lounge and impatiently wait with thousands of others for our rides while rehashing our reactions to tonight’s speeches.

11:30 p.m.: Our final journey took us back downtown for Tumblr’s second sponsored event — a concert with Kesha and Drive By Truckers in support of Gabby Giffords and Captain Mark Kelly’s gun-violence prevention organization, Americans for Responsible Solutions.

After a day packed with heavy conversations on the state of politics and important issues, I feel a second wind coming at the thought of a lot of dancing and very little talking.

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