How the Post won the Pulitzer: Aurora theater coverage

The Denver Press Club added another accolade to its wall of fame after reporters from the Denver Post presented their Pulitzer to the club on April 13. The Denver Post won the Pulitzer for their print and pioneering digital coverage of the mass shooting that took place in an Aurora theater in 2013.

Former and current Post writers Dana Coffield, Jordan Steffen, Jennifer Brown and John Ingold spoke about their experiences covering the tragedy. The panel of four looked back at their investigative practices during the aftermath of the Aurora shooting, reflecting on why they won the Pulitzer. Much of it was attributed to their use of digital and print media, which set a precedent for how similar events should be covered afterward. The team was also one of the only media outlets in the state that never reported the wrong body count.

From left, Dana Coffield, John Ingold, Carol Mckinley, Jordan Steffen, and Jennifer Brown talk in a panel duscussion about the coverage for the 2012 Aurora movie theater shooting at the Denver Press Club on April 13. Coffield, Ingold, Steffen and Brown were all part of the Denver Post team who won the Breaking News Pulitzer in print and digital coverage in 2013. Photo by Karson Hallaway • cgonza88@msudenver.edu

“I had people who write sports writing obituaries,” Coffield said. It took all handson-deck at the Post in order to provide the best coverage of the shooting. Interns selfdispatched. In the hours after the shooting, information flooded into the newsroom. After the end of four days, there were over 300 pages of tweets about the shooting that had been used to gather or spread information. With the potential to get so many facts wrong, the team at the Post waited for the correct information. They often published after their competitors.

“There’s responsibility in being the primary news outlet and some of that is making sure people feel as safe as they can while providing accurate, consistent information,” Coffield said.

Coffield added that the reporters were motivated by not just high journalistic standards, but also a sense of responsibility to their fellow Coloradans.

“We understood our community had gone through this before,” said Lee Ann Colacioppo, current editor in-chief of the Denver Post.

When the theater shooting happened in 2012, social media was still rising in prominence. Although platforms like Twitter and Facebook were popular, the Post pioneered the use of others like live blogging. The Pulitzer award cited their use of storytelling, which set the model for how other papers across the country would cover Aurora and other breaking news. Five years later, breaking news is dependent on the use of social media.

“You get spokespeople that say ‘we’re just going to put something out on Twitter or Facebook,’ instead of responding to questions in person. It changes how information is distributed,” Ingold said. This redistribution directly affects local papers, which have lost funding and resources significantly in the last five years.

The reliance on social media has had other effects as well.

“I think it has the potential for more inaccuracies and you really have to question not only what you’re putting out there, but what you’re taking in,” Steffen said. Not only are rumors about breaking news events dispersed quickly, they’re more permanent with social media. It has become easier for information to be amplified because it is recycled by different outlets.

“It creates a duality of false narratives. It gives these things a life even after they’ve been debunked because they’re just being showed in that little viral ecosystem,” Ingold said.

In the past five years, people more frequently share photos, videos and information directly from their phones during breaking news events. The dynamic between journalists and social media has changed significantly in the last five years. Breaking news reporters have the power to perpetuate misinformation or provide accurate details.

“Part of reporting is clarifying and synthesizing, and finding ways to translate what can be really complicated information,” Steffen said.

Author: Madison Lauterbach

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