On April 20, 1999, Columbine High School suffered a tragedy unlike anything most people had experienced at that time. What happened in that small Colorado town reverberated across the country and around the globe, making people everywhere stop and pay attention. Twenty years later, Columbine feels like the start of an epidemic to many people – but to those still living there, the only option is to continue moving forward every day.
When the anniversary approached last year, the editors at the Canyon Courier knew they couldn’t let the 13 innocent people who lost their lives that day be forgotten by their neighbors.
“In December 2018, our parent company, Landmark Community Newspapers, made the decision to shutter the Columbine Courier newspaper after 29 years of existence. Thus, we lost a connection to the community in the Littleton area,” wrote Michael Hicks, executive editor of Evergreen Newspapers, the company that owns the Canyon Courier, in his submission to the News Impact Project.
Knowing that the community of Columbine didn’t have their own local paper anymore, Hicks and his team decided to put together a special section marking the tragic anniversary, ensuring the Courier’s neighbors had local coverage. “The Columbine area was the regular beat for one of our reporters, Deborah Swearingen. Our news editor, Deb Hurley Brobst, led the editorial direction of the section, while staff writer Corinne Westeman also contributed on the reporting front,” Hicks wrote.
Because they were local, however, Hicks and the Canyon Courier staff wanted to make sure they weren’t doing the same story as the national outlets that were likely to cover the anniversary. “How could we cover the story from a fresh perspective 20 years later without rehashing the same angle that most organizations would undoubtedly tackle – remembering the victims, talking to the survivors and the family members?” he wrote.
The story the team put together was one that showed how the community of Columbine had moved on. “’I think it’s a story of triumph over tragedy, good over evil. It’s a story of a community bonding together and just being determined to be successful, to rebuild … and I think 20 years marks that,’ current [Columbine High School] principal Scott Christy said,” the team wrote.
You can read the full series online now:
“Columbine 20th anniversary: Lessons learned,” via the Canyon Courier website or via PDF.
“Columbine 20th anniversary: Retired schools communications team member recalls tragedy,” via website or via PDF.
“Columbine 20th anniversary: Tragedy altered security procedures,” via website or via PDF.
Jennifer Peters is former content manager of the News Media Alliance.