This issue, “10 Questions” checked in with Lee Ann Colacioppo, the first woman editor at the Denver Post in its nearly 124-year history.
She's been a city editor, enterprise team leader, investigations editor and news editor, and was a leader on The Post's coverage of the Aurora theater shootings, for which the newspaper won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Journalism for Breaking News Reporting.
After 17 years at The Post, she now sits in perhaps the most intense editorial seat in the state. Here's her take on the state of her newspaper and the industry today.
1 – A Denver native, you're a graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School in Denver and of Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, where you earned your bachelor's degree in journalism. What made you choose this industry?
I recall watching a television news report when I was in high school and I was struck by the fact that the reporter was right there in the middle of it all, seeing whatever the event was firsthand and unfiltered. I decided right then to become a reporter and I never looked back.
2 – You started out as a reporter for four years with the Kingsport Times News in Tennessee, then went on to work as an assistant city editor for the Greenville (S.C.) News and the same for The Des Moines Register in Iowa. In 1999, you came to The Post as assistant city editor. Why the change from reporter to editor – what is the attraction and what are the rewards of this type of job?
My first job was as a reporter in Kingsport. I then went to Greenville as a reporter and transitioned into editing there. It’s been so many years, I don’t recall my thinking but I suspect it had to do with a new challenge, more responsibility and better pay.
Why did I stick with it?I learned I was a better editor than I was a reporter. I have great admiration for reporters who can find themselves in any situation and quickly gain the trust of strangers, somehow convincing them to talk freely. It’s not my talent.
I love the breadth of stories and people you get to work with as an editor, I like shaping the news report, and I like taking a story and helping make it even better. You might make multiple decisions in the space of five minutes. It’s an exciting job.
3 – During your 17 years with The Post, you've been assistant city editor and city editor, had an enterprise team, were investigations editor and news editor. How did you come to The Post, what kept you here, and when do you think the climate regarding having a woman at the helm changed?
I always dreamed of returning to Denver and working at The Post. I mailed a resume and one day it moved to the surface of Frank Scandale’s desk (he was an assistant managing editor then) and he called me. The timing wasn’t right but eventually his needs and my availability matched up and my husband and I moved to Denver.
The decision to stay has been easy. This is my hometown and my family is here. Colorado is a great place to live. The Denver Post has been a fulfilling place for me to work with lots of opportunities to develop professionally and amazing colleagues. I am devoted to this place. I think the climate was always right for a woman at the helm, it just didn’t work out until now.
4 – On one segment of your online DPtv, you talk about restructuring the daily newsgathering process – having a Now Team and an Enterprise Team as the basic newsroom factions. The teams are focusing on breaking news and what readers are looking for on a daily basis for the former, and on in-depth stories that tell your viewers and readers what they really need to know for the latter. In what new ways are these changes from traditional news-specific desks manifesting themselves so far?
It has made us less dependent on the crime news of the moment for the website, it has eased some of the tug-of-war over resources and has added clarity when reporters and editors are setting priorities.
5 – In that segment, you talk a lot about giving readers what they're looking for. What are the metrics for that process, and how do you think that will evolve in coming years in the industry?
There are various tools available to us to see what readers are searching for but that isn’t our only method. We know what readers historically like and we know what stories we like to read. All of that goes into the decision-making. I don’t think it is smart for a news organization to turn all of its decision-making over to a computer. Our own history and brainpower and common sense should also play a big role.
6 – The Denver Post is putting considerable thought and action into attracting and keeping younger viewers and readers. What does that look like online and in print?
A lot of that effort is online rather than print. One of the changes you see in both places, however, is a more relaxed, conversational writing style that is appealing to younger readers.
We are also in the process of revamping our entertainment offerings to create a site we think will draw younger readers and will be easier to navigate than what we now offer.
We are experimenting with story structure when it makes sense so that the stories are faster and easier to read for people who just don’t have a lot of time to spend with us.
7 – Newsrooms all over the country, including yours, are making these editorial staffing and restructuring changes. How do you believe this new model will continue to adapt to the market in say, the next 5-10 years?
One thing we are trying to do with this model is create a nimble organizational structure that is ready to adapt to whatever comes our way over the next few years. I’ve given up trying to predict what the future holds because it changes so fast. This organization seeks to recognize our core values and leave us able to react quickly to change.
8 – Can you name your top three mentors and how they influenced you?
I’ve been blessed to have had mentors at every step of my career.
Here’s a stab at just three in alphabetical order: Randy Evans of The Des Moines Register. I worked for Randy as an intern and later as an editor. I have sought to carry on his tradition of how to treat people. He knew how to push people, criticize and be angry – and also praise and offer amazing support.
Greg Moore, former editor of The Denver Post. Greg’s talents as an editor are legendary. On a personal level, he created opportunities for me beyond what I could have imagined and offered me a front seat to see how he managed news, big stories and a changing environment.
Chris Weston of The Greenville News. Chris made me an editor – and not just in title. No one taught me more about how to conceive of a story and how to build an idea into a story, an inside story into a 1A story, and a 1A story into a project.
9 – Do you have a current favorite book, movie or television show?
No book, movie or television show stays in my ‘favorite’ column for very long. I like fiction that is a bit hard to read, movies that do not have one single scary scene in them and television that makes me want to watch all the episodes in a row.
10 – Neat desk or office or not, and what would we see there?
It’s a tidy desk. Right now you would see a water bottle, bowl of mints, iPad, notebook, and folder containing printouts of stories and graphics for an upcoming project. Also a half-eaten salad that’s turned warm and a bit soggy. Newspapers are stacked on another table.