I recognized Monday as the start of a news cycle I’ve become all
too familiar with.
A storm that was supposed to bring anywhere from 1 to 3 feet of
snow – and maybe more in the mountains – was crawling across the
state; as if the white stuff we’d all forgotten about weren’t
enough, tornadoes preceded the blizzard; then President Bush gave
Iraq’s royal family the get-out-of-Dodge-or-else warning.
What else could possibly happen? Perhaps I shouldn’t ask,
because history has not been kind.
Many recent local and national tragedies have occurred on
Tuesdays – deadline day for the Wednesday editions of the Castle
Rock News-Press and the Douglas County News-Press.
I remember sitting in front of the computer and listening to the
frantic, often frustrated and even angry voices of emergency crews
and dispatchers who responded to the Columbine High School
shootings on a Tuesday.
More recently, again on a Tuesday, I climbed into my car and
headed toward the office only to hear that a plane – I pictured a
single-engine prop job – had slammed into one of the World Trade
Then, about 10 minutes later, the second one hit. I knew, as
everyone did, the event was no accident.
And now a blizzard, although a blizzard is a walk – OK, a trudge
– through the park compared with the first two events.
Situations like these thrust journalists into their
breaking-news mode of operation. It is, indeed, one of the most
exciting aspects of being a journalist. Unfortunately, many times
tragedy necessitates our shift into that mode.
In some cases, such as this blizzard, we might have time to
prepare for it. Our Monday discussions this time focused more on
logistics – what if only a few of us make it to work, for
In the case of Columbine, we decided to cover the event from a
basic angle – no localizing. We had a couple reporters gather the
news and an editor write the story. Then we placed it on the front
page, but it was not the “banner” story. Banner does not mean good,
by the way, it means biggest.
We then followed with several weeks of related coverage geared
specifically to Douglas County. That, of course, is called
By Tuesday mornings, we usually have all but about three or four
pages of the Wednesday editions done. We have a batch of stories
ready to go and a few that we expect to trickle in on deadline. At
a mid-morning editors’ meeting, we decide which stories will go on
which pages and in which editions.
Sept. 11, 2001, was a different process. We met as a newsroom,
discussed stories that should be covered and from which angles. We
dispatched a photographer to accompany the reporters on some
The editors met separately and decided which stories not related
to the terrorist attacks had to run that week and which stories we
could hold for the following week. We then went to work, all the
while listening to radio broadcasts or watching a television
broadcast in an adjacent room.
We put the paper together. Then we all somberly went home to
contemplate the day’s events.
That is the thing about the breaking news mode. It distracts
journalists. We have a job to do by a certain time. There is not
much time to get emotional about the events we cover when we are
That time comes hours, and sometimes days, later, when we’re at
home and either alone or with family, friends or loved ones. It is
then that we delve into the emotions. Those are the times we
Thankfully, given the nature of this event, we won’t be crying,
just doing a whole lot of shoveling – at least until the war
Matthew Vuletich is the managing editor of the News-Press.