Denver Post stumbles on a scoop in its own clip file

At 10:30 a.m. this morning, the family of Dean Withers, an 80-year-old man stabbed in the back at a north metro King Soopers, will hold a press conference at the Westminster Public Safety Center, where a photograph of the victim will be made available. In the meantime, the family of Ryan Patrick Nichols, who's been charged with the crime, is already talking to the media. In fact, his father, Jim Nichols, chatted with the Denver Post in June -- which was apparently news to the Post staffers who put together the first stories on the recent attack.

In "Parents of Mentally Ill Adults in Trials of Torment," reporter Colleen O'Connor cited the elder Nichols twice. On the first occasion, he recounted an incident during which he had to "talk a police officer out of Tasering his schizophrenic son after he had punched a hole in the wall." Later in the piece, he offered a quote that now seems extremely telling: "We're in a grace period right now. But we're always ready for the bottom to drop out."

The first Post report that mentioned Ryan Nichols, penned by reporter Howard Pankratz, didn't mention his mental condition or his father's previous comments -- but this omission isn't the example of institutional communication problems that it seems at first blush. After all, O'Connor's earlier piece didn't use Ryan's first name, and "Nichols" is far too common a moniker to have immediately rung any bells with editors. And the Post subsequently took advantage of its head start on the story, with O'Connor penning today's article about Ryan and his condition, which offers new quotes from a devastated Jim. For his family, clearly, the bottom he feared would drop out has done just that.


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