Small Town to Big City, the Colo. H.S. Shootings Shook Up Newsrooms

By Strupp, Joe | Editor & Publisher, April 24, 1999 | Go to article overview

Small Town to Big City, the Colo. H.S. Shootings Shook Up Newsrooms


Strupp, Joe, Editor & Publisher


While Denver's major newspapers put dozens of reporters and thousands of dollars of resources toward covering the bloody high school shooting in Littleton, Colo., last week, the weekly Columbine Courier, which covers the Littleton area regularly, was forced to get by with five reporters, one photographer, and an intern.

Gritting their collective teeth on April 20, the staff of the 24,000- circulation paper put out its first-ever extra wrap-around, despite a freelance photographer who would not show up and the paper's only copy editor out on vacation.

"This was a monumental story," says editor Casey Ehmsen, who had to borrow three reporters from the two other weeklies he edits. The weekly paper normally goes to press on Monday for a Wednesday edition. But when the shooting erupted on April 20, a Tuesday, Ehmsen says his staff had to react quickly to create a special four-page section that wrapped the regular weekly edition, a first for the small paper.

Ehmsen says his chief writer was first on the scene at Columbine High School, which is located about a mile from the newspaper's office, and gave first-hand accounts of shots being fired and explosions. He says the young staff, with an average age of 22, reacted well. "To go out and experience that kind of thing was good for them," Ehmsen says. "They were pretty shaken up, but they did it."

Denver's two daily newspapers, meanwhile, took decidedly different approaches to first-day coverage of the shooting, which is being called the worst mass murder in U.S. history. Although The Denver Post, owned by MediaNews Group, and the Denver Rocky Mountain News, a Scripps Howard paper, each threw the majority of their staff at the story, the initial reporting showed marked contrasts.

While the tabloid-style News put two extra editions on the street just hours after the shooting, the Post, published in broadsheet, waited until the next day's regular edition to report on the rampage.

Post editors say they wanted to wait until specific details about the number of dead and wounded, and other elements of the story, were clear before going to press.

"The thinking was that we wanted to have as much accurate information as we could," says Fred Brown, a Post newsroom spokesman. …

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