Denver Stations Tackle Yet Another Mass Tragedy

"Like Columbine, you go right into work mode," says KUSA news director Dennis
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As their smartphones and tablets blurted out news alerts
early Friday morning, Denver's TV news professionals surely felt a pang of
dreadful deja  vu. Veterans of the market were there for the Columbine shootings
in 1999, and a pair of other less deadly, but no less shocking, school shootings.

Reports of at least 12 dead, and dozens wounded, at a theater a few miles east
of downtown Denver, added to Denver's tragic legacy.

"Like Columbine, you go right into work mode,"
says Patti Dennis, vice president and news director at KUSA, and a 30-year veteran
of the station. "But you start to realize it's our community again, and
our community has been through this too many times."

Gannett's KUSA is the news leader in DMA No. 17 and went
live a little before 2:30 a.m. Gannett also owns MyNetworkTV station KTVD,
which aired Today Friday morning so
KUSA could stick with live coverage. Dennis says station management may move
NBC's primetime over to KTVD, or keep it on KUSA and move live coverage to the
sister station.

KUSA also houses NBC News' Denver bureau, and Pete Williams,
a network correspondent, was on KUSA's air Friday morning to divulge the name
of the suspect in the mass shooting.

Dennis says she got the call about the shooting around 1:05 a.m.
Friday, and hustled to the station. Reporters and producers quickly followed.
"People sleep with their phones," she says. "I'm amazed at how
many people showed up to work. It's the culture and the custom -- people just
show up."

Sales and HR staffers pitched in with answering phones until
more newsgatherers arrived. Around 21 news professionals from other Gannett
stations are en route to Denver, Dennis adds. KUSA, and other NBC affiliates in
the Gannett group, are also in the processing of sending reporters, and
equipment, to London for the Olympics.

Whereas the Columbine school shootings happened before the
age of social media, Dennis says the station received three separate clips of
cellphone video from eyewitnesses; one was too "raw," she says, to
air. "The Twittersphere is just screaming with information," says
Dennis.

Some local radio outlets are broadcasting the names of the
victims, says Dennis, though KUSA, for the moment, is awaiting clearer
confirmation. "I feel very strongly that you have to wait for
confirmation," she says, "before you start throwing out the names of
deceased people."

As it will do in London next week, KUSA is employing a pair
of live remote backpacks on the scene in Aurora. The backpack technology allows
reporters to go live from spots where a truck may not be able to go.

Other Denver stations include Scripps' KMGH, CBS-owned KCNC
and Local TV's KDVR. Crews are set up at the scene of the shooting and at the
suspect's apartment building, where police are searching for explosives.

Michael Langley, news director at KOAA Colorado Springs, which is about an hour south of Aurora, says the whole of Colorado feels the pain when part of the state is hit with profound tragedy. Very recently, the Colorado Springs crews were covering a devastating wild fire that caused evacuations and death. Today, Langley was sending crews to Aurora.

"Coloradans keenly feel everything that goes on in the state," he says. "I don't have an adjective that adequately enough describes the news that's come out of Colorado the last few weeks."

The
news professionals are buckling down to report the terrible story, and will
process their emotions later.

"You go into story coverage mode," says Dennis.
"The reality will sink in, but it's a little delayed. You're not able to
engage in the emotions of it."

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