Denver Post Adds DFMie to Awards for Breaking News Coverage

The Denver Post staff, winner of the DFMie for breaking news coverage, among other awards.
Headline: Denver Post Coverage of the Aurora Theater Shooting
Outlet: Denver Post
Journalist: Denver Post Staff
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Despite an outstanding year for breaking news coverage for many Digital First newsrooms, the least-surprising choice for a DFMie is in the breaking news category: The Denver Post adds a DFMie to the Pulitzer Prize and American Society of News Editors awards (and others) it won for coverage of the massacre at a theater in Aurora, Colo. Post editors detailed the coverage in their nomination:

The Post’s response to the Aurora theater shootings was to publish thousands of stories, Tweets, Facebook posts, photos, videos and interactive elements – all as staffers coped with the emotional toll.

  • The main, posted at 2:42 a.m. without benefit of police briefings, was updated 36 times in 18 hours.
  • The report included photos and videos from staff and public at the scene.
  • A live blog included reporters and community members who were reliving a mass shooting similar to the Columbine tragedy.
  • Interactive maps and timelines in first 12 hours.

We digitally fed the appetite for information Friday, we produced 14 pages for Saturday, and kept this pace for days.

The Pulitzer nomination letter by Post Editor Greg Moore provided more detail on the Post’s coverage:

A newsroom grows quiet after midnight. Down to just a couple digital producers, The Denver Post was no different as July 19 gave way to the 20th. Just 39 minutes into that summer day, the quiet was shattered.

An Aurora, Colorado, police dispatcher calmly put out a call for units to head to a movie theater to check out reports of shots fired – not an uncommon event in a metropolitan area. But the second dispatch was different: “There is one person who has been shot. But they say there are hundreds of people running around.” Nearing 1 a.m., Night Producer Paul Soriano was about to turn off the lights. He immediately called the Post’s night city editor and the newsroom roared back to life.

With reporters, photographers and videographers blanketing the scene, the horrific details were published through social media and denverpost.com: 12 dead; 58 injured; panicked survivors; chaos at the 16-screen theater.

Once again, Colorado would be ground zero to mass murder.

In the first few hours after the shooting, we had journalists from every department in the newsroom assigned to dozens of angles. The entire first day of the massacre was published on our digital platforms with updates virtually by the minute. Our social media team was aggressive and creative. Our visual team was beaming the images around the world. We were the primary source for accurate information about the number of dead, the number of wounded and produced the definitive account of what happened in Theater 9 after a man opened fire with an arsenal during the midnight premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

And so began days of around-the-clock coverage. The Denver Post published thousands of stories, Tweets, Facebook posts, photos, videos and interactive elements – all as reporters and editors tried to cope with the emotional toll of the grisly news:

  • Our first Tweet went out at 1:47 a.m.
  • Determined to publish only what we could confirm, our main breaking news story was first published at 2:42 a.m. without the benefit of police briefings. We updated it 36 times in the first 18 hours after the shooting.
  • Our main Twitter and Facebook accounts were both pushing and pulling information. Post reporters and photographers were posting information and images on their accounts while editors in the newsroom would fashion the stories from those details.
  • We published videos from both staff and the public at the scene.
  • We tended to a live blog that included our reporters as well as community members. That feature was actively managed for four days after the shooting.
  • We posted interactive maps and timelines in the first 12 hours.
  • We analyzed and posted audio files of the police and fire radio traffic.
  • We facilitated conversations on Facebook and our commenting platform for a community stunned to be reliving the trauma after enduring the deadly Columbine school shooting in 1999.

As we fed the insatiable appetite for information Friday on our digital platforms, we began planning 14 pages of coverage for Saturday’s newspaper. Included in that report was a graphic of the scene, profiles of victims who had been identified, the anguish of the survivors, details of selfless acts of heroism, a meaty profile of suspect James Holmes and the shocking news that he had booby-trapped his apartment in an apparent attempt to injure first responders and neighbors. And we repeated that performance day after day:

  • On Day 2, while police and bomb experts were successfully untangling the explosives at the suspect’s apartment, officials released the names of the 12 victims. We were on the scene of the apartment, reporting in real time. We put several staffers to the task of profiling each of the victims – online and in print.
  • On Day 3 the community stopped to remember. Thousands arrived – some driving hours to pay their respects. The makeshift memorial was growing by the minute and President Barack Obama landed to visit hospitals and speak to the community.
  • On Day 4, we got our first look at James Holmes as he appeared in court. With “a tangle of orangish-red hair atop his head like a bizarre costume wig,” Holmes barely paid attention. The legal battle had begun.

Incredibly, we were able to maintain this pace of reporting for several days, including producing a special section extolling the heroic acts of people inside the theater, and an enterprise story raising serious questions about how ambulances responded to the shooting.

For the first 96 hours, media from around the world created a frenzy in Aurora. We were determined to be aggressive but measured, fast but accurate – our community would demand that. There were inaccurate rumors on the death count, the background of the suspect and investigation information that hit other outlets – but not one appeared on Denver Post platforms.

Our supplemental material includes a log of our major digital elements during the first four days, the main story from Saturday’s newspaper, an enterprise story on the poor response of ambulance crews, a story on the immediate spike in gun sale permits, PDFs of our daily newspaper coverage, PDFs of the denverpost.com home page as it progressed through the weekend, PDFs and stories from our special section Heroes Among Us, and a video from that effort.

We are proud of the ways we served our community during this tragic story. There is no forecast for a mass shooting. There is no chance to halt vacations, plan stories or prepare the staff. There is only the training, skill and drive of your newsroom.

We are pleased to submit our coverage of the Aurora theater shootings for consideration for the Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting of Breaking News.

DFMie judges joined those praising the Post’s coverage:

Sophisticated and humanizing reporting, elegant writing, Pulitzer-caliber photography, chilling graphics and other informative visuals provided readers with a compelling description and analysis of the Aurora, Colo., theater massacre. The coverage offered reliable clarity when readers needed to know the basic facts, and showed impressive enterprise in guiding readers to new places. We also admired the restraint and clear sense of purpose apparent in the use of social media.

Embedded below are PDFs of the Post’s coverage:

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