Lee Ann Colacioppo is the new editor at The Denver Post. The longtime Denverite is the first woman in the paper's history to have this position. She's got plenty of challenges ahead of her, including a newsroom staff that is likely to be a third of the size it was at the paper's peak.
Colacioppo spoke with Colorado Matters host Nathan Heffel. Click above to hear the conversation and read a transcript below.
Nathan Heffel: You're back with Colorado Matters from CPR News. I'm Nathan Heffel. For the first time in the Denver Post's 124-year history, a woman has been named editor. Longtime Denverite and journalist, Lee Ann Colacioppo comes to the helm as her newsroom is shrinking and the newspaper industry is struggling. Lee Ann, thanks for joining us.
Lee Ann Colacioppo: Thank you. It's good to be here.
Heffel: You became editor at the Post just as a new round of employee buy-outs are underway. The newsroom staff may be reduced to a third of what it was at its peak. How are you going to keep good reporters and stories flowing in this climate?
Colacioppo: Well I don't think there's a newspaper in America that isn't struggling with numbers coming down and making different decisions about what they're covering, how they're covering it, what they're going to let go, what they're really going to focus on. And we're going to do that too. We're having a lot of conversations inside the newsroom about what we think our core values are, what we think is most important to Colorado readers and what Colorado readers are telling us they think is most important in what they want to read. And we're just aligning ourselves around those two missions as we try to continue to have impact, continue to do important journalism, chase the news and have fun while we're at it.
Heffel: So does that mean a new newsroom structure to kind of meet these focal points?
Colacioppo: Correct. The old structure, where people are very siloed into different areas, 'I only do this little bit of business and I only cover this for the city desk or this for features,' we have reached a size where that just becomes very difficult. It just doesn't make you nimble enough and nimble just has to be a big part of what we are right now. So we are going to realign.
We'll still keep the expertise because if you really know a lot about Denver City Hall, we certainly don't want to lose that, or politics, or the environment. Lots and lots of subjects. But we're just going to reorganize around this idea that there are stories that we really want to do. Stories that nobody else is doing, stories that affect the conversation in Colorado. Our story a couple weeks ago about the assassination of the head of the DOC and what we got out of the Texas Rangers out of that. That was good exclusive reporting and we don't want to lose that and we want to stay focused.
But we also are going to have a team that we're going to call the "Now Team" that is very much attuned to what is breaking right now, what readers are telling us they're interested in at a given moment. You know, that's a big difference with the digital age is you can really keep track of what readers want to know at a given second, you can see it. And so this team is going to be positioned to really respond to that.
Heffel: So does that mean you're getting rid of the investigative team or are you holding on to that as well?
Colacioppo: We're going to hold on to the investigative team. It will sort of fall under the broad umbrella of our enterprise team but I was an investigative editor and I worked in that field and I firmly believe in it and I believe that when you get smaller, it's actually all the more reason to continue to have people devoted to doing investigative work.
Heffel: So is this type of model based on another news organization around the company, or country rather?
Colacioppo: No, this was born out of our own thinking about what we needed to do. My predecessor, Greg Moore, had sort of started pushing us along this kind of path and we took it and just kind of took it from there. I think that any newspaper around anywhere needs to be thinking about whether they should really realign in a dramatic way to address all the challenges they have and continue to do what they think is important but we're not modeling this after any other news organization.
Heffel: So becoming more nimble it sounds like in this environment. Is there concern about a loss of institutional knowledge as these buy-outs go into effect and the newsroom continues to shrink?
Colacioppo: We always worry about it. I think when we come to the end of this we'll have two things in place. There'll certainly be veterans left, that newsroom is full almost to a person with people who have chosen over the years to be there. And a lot of people who have been there a long time want to stay and myself included, I've been there since 1999. I grew up here. So there will still be people who know it. I'd also stress that there's a lot of value in having new people in your organization because they bring a fresh perspective. They're not the ones who say 'Oh, no, not that story again,' that you do when you've been there awhile and they see it from a new way, tell it a different way. So I think we're going to end up with a really great mix of more experienced people and less experienced people.
Heffel: And what about the staffers? What do they think of this? This seems to be a very changing situation, day by day almost in some cases.
Colacioppo: That's true. The staffers, this has been the case in newspapers for some years now and change is becoming our normal to some extent. The staff is distressed that we're getting smaller. I'm distressed that we're getting smaller. Nobody wants to see that. There's so much work to do and there's certainly plenty for everybody to do, and more.
But I think they're understanding, they understand at the end of the day that newspapers are a business. They're a wonderful business, they're the best business in the world in my mind to be in, but they are a business. And I think they know that and are themselves thinking about 'how can I do my job differently?' They are recognizing that going to a meeting that is going to end up deep inside the newspaper that will flash through the website, nobody will ever read it, isn't a great use of their time and to some extent, these changes can be freeing for you as a reporter.
You don’t have to think, oh, I've got to go chase this little thing and chase that little thing and chase that other little thing. I can sit back and think, what is the most important thing going on in healthcare right now and what could I do that nobody else is doing. And the same with law enforcement and the same with politics and same with technology and the economy and all these core areas for us, education. So we're trying to say to them, look, you can't do it all. We understand that. So what do you want to do? What should we be doing?
Heffel: Is there a concern that you have these two, you have the enterprise, you have the 'now' type of focus, that maybe these now stories may have other more important stories, or stories that are just as important kind of buried because they're not the 'now,' they're not the ones that are clickable? They're not the ones that are, that people are reading at that point.
Colacioppo: So that is the reason that, so those two teams, first of all let me say, they will, there'll be some intermingling, you just can't, they're not just siloed off but that's one reason why you have that enterprise team and to get back to your question about investigations, that's why you keep that. It's so easy in the course of a day to just get sucked into this shiny object and that shiny object and then next thing you know, that's all you're doing. And we want to do that, we think that's important. It's important for our future, it's important for growing the number of readers coming to us. But there's a core thing that newspapers do and by creating that enterprise team, you make sure we're doing it and that you're doing it well with all the pieces and the photo and the video and the extras that work really well in print and work really well online.
Growing the audience
Heffel: You're listening to Colorado Matters from CPR News. I'm Nathan Heffel. I'm chatting with Lee Ann Colacioppo, the new editor of the Denver Post. Lee Ann, is there a focus on growing a national audience for the Denver Post?
Colacioppo: No. We have a national audience, naturally it comes to us because mostly of course, what, the Broncos as you might imagine and our other sports teams. And certainly Denver and Colorado generate national news, we'll get huge national numbers out of the Bernie-Hillary situation was big for us and the Thunderbird crash the other day. So we'll get a lot of national audience out of that but that's not who we're day in and day out trying to get. We're much more interested in really growing our Colorado audience. That's the place that we're turning our focus, that's what's important to us. It's where we live, it's who the Denver Post is, it's really frankly, what's more important to our advertisers as well. So we're focused there.
Heffel: So does it mean going directly into the metro area only then and leaving the Front Range behind or the state of Colorado behind?
Colacioppo: No. When I talk about local, our staff is pretty much all here in the metro area right now. When I talk about local, in my mind I think Colorado. We have certainly don't have the bureaus around that we used to but we have partnerships with newspapers around the state and those have been great. Those are, we, this state is blessed with lots of good publications. We have a reporter who is looking to move up into the mountains and from there that's just a, the mountains are such a core part of what we do and it's expensive to send somebody to drive up there all the time so he's going to live up there and he'll write whatever, hiking and tourism and all the things, all the rich things that happen up in the mountains.
Heffel: Why would you want a job like this at a time when some people in the industry think things are dying, that newspapers are going to be gone in the next 10 to 15 years? Greg Moore said something like that when he left the Post, former editor.
Colacioppo: He said, I think he said, he talked about the print product and so in my mind when I think of newspapers, I'm not just necessarily so focused on the print product, I'm thinking more about the journalism that newspapers do. I don’t, we don’t have a crystal ball to know how long we'll have a print product but I can tell you right now, it's a really valuable part of what we do. Readers like it, they like to hold onto it and touch it and advertisers like it for that very same reason. People can study it and understand things differently and it's just a great way to present enterprise news in particular. It's a beautiful thing and it smells good, to me anyway. And so I think my reason for really embracing this job is one as you can see, love newspapers and love the Denver Post above all. And I really am excited to have a role in figuring out what we are going to be like in 10 or 15 years. Like I just don’t want to leave that to people who don’t care about it as much as I do.
Being a "lady editor"
Heffel: An online story referred to you as "lady editor" when your hiring was announced. You tweeted in response "lady editor. Remember that all who heard me get mad at computer today." The story in question was generated by an automated news site but it raises an important point. Does that antiquated word, even if it was generated by a computer, show that journalism isn't where it needs to be in terms of diversity in the newsroom?
Colacioppo: I think that there remains a shortage of diversity in newsrooms, particularly at the top. I meant to check this before I came in here because there was recently a study about, it was particularly looking at women in top roles at newspapers and it's way off. It's really light. I mean certainly lots and lots of women have run big newspapers but it still remains, as a whole, not as diverse at it should be and that includes race also.
Denver has been really blessed in that. Of course we know that Greg was black, still is actually. And the managing editor at the Post is a female we just named. And our head of photography is female and the head of business is female. So we have, and the head of our digital operation is female. So our newsroom is actually pretty rich in that right now but I think as an industry we have work to do.
Heffel: Lee Ann, thanks for joining us.
Colacioppo: Thank you!