‘It was crushing’: Denver Post editor talks about difficult process of covering another Colorado mass shooting



Lee Ann Colacioppo, the editor of The Denver Post, was on an afternoon planning call with her staff when news broke that that newspaper would have to cover yet another mass shooting. Matt Sebastian, the managing editor, “saw it on Twitter,” Colacioppo recalled to me during a phone call Tuesday evening. “It was like, ‘Oh my God.’ You know? It was that crushing feeling,” she said, pausing briefly as she considered her word choice. “Crushing is the right word. It was crushing.”

The Denver Post has had the unfortunate task of covering some of the most horrific acts of gun violence in modern American history. It was there for Columbine. For Aurora. For the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooting. For other shooting sprees you may have never heard of. And, now, the King Soopers shooting.

When I asked Colacioppo about what the last day has been like, she replied, “It’s been a strange 24 hours because we still aren’t back in the office.” This, she explained, had been the first mass-shooting the Post has covered with pandemic-era restrictions. “So we haven’t even been like a newsroom where we can see each other and talk to each other and support each other and communicate in a normal newsroom way,” Colacioppo said. “It has all been over video chat and chaotic Slacks. You don’t have any of the normal interactions.”

Similar reporting process — different reception

While covering this shooting has been different because of the pandemic, Colacioppo acknowledged that it has followed a similar pattern — one the paper has grown all too familiar with — as other acts of violence. In fact, she said that she believes the staff who have covered previous shootings are likely struggling the most because of that. “They have a sense of what lies ahead,” she explained. “And I think it can be, in some ways, harder because they just know the next steps: seeing the pictures of the victims and talking to the families of the victims.”

But while the process for covering mass-shootings has not changed much, Colacioppo pointed out that America’s attitude toward them has. “With Columbine everyone was riveted on that one story,” she said. “And now you have a shooting a week ago and it’s just like one after another.”

Putting victims first

Colacioppo said that on Tuesday her staff spent “quite a bit of time” working on a plan to emphasize the lives of victims. “It changes over time as the story progresses,” she said. “Our strategy for tomorrow’s newspaper is — we are going to have a story about the suspect and a nuanced piece about him — but we won’t be putting out his photo on the front page. Our centerpiece on the front page is going to be the photos of the victims. So we are highlighting them and their stories.”

“At the end of the day, the killer is also a part of the story,” Colacioppo added. “We try to be sensitive about highlighting the killer’s name. We are cautious about giving their photo a lot of high-profile play because it is hurtful to the victims and the news value of that is less and less.”

Advice for other outlets

During our conversation, I asked Colacioppo what advice she would give other outlets that might have to cover a mass-shooting. “My message is to make sure that your staff is ready,” she said. “Because sadly, it is probably coming.”

“You have to have the right policies and procedures in place,” Colacioppo added. “Be aware of the people that are getting burned out during the process. And, first and foremost, remember you are there to serve your community.”



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