April 20 wasn't just a day when pot smokers congregated to celebrate their need for weed; it was also the ninth anniversary of the slayings at Columbine High School. Because nine isn't a number that typically demands commemoration -- and because it immediately precedes ten, which does -- some of us hoped that the Denver dailies would downplay massacre coverage on the date. But no such luck. As it has for every year this century, the Columbine tale dominated the front pages of the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post on or near the day in question. And unfortunately, the resulting pieces, several of which focused upon the Columbine Memorial, which was formally unveiled last September, came across as entirely rote, offering precious little insight into the shocking event and its dreadful legacy.
Because of the joint-operating agreement linking the business operations of the two papers, which handed the Rocky an exclusive Saturday franchise and the Post the sole Sunday edition, readers were subjected to an entire weekend's worth of unenlightening Columbine offerings. On April 19, the Rocky struck first with "Memorial: Place of Peace," which found scribe James Meadow chatting with a few people who'd ambled into Clement Park and waxing poetic like so:
A woman comes with her mother and her own two daughters. The girls, too young to read, too innocent to fathom the loss of innocence, are well-behaved but restless. They run their hands over the granite pages, which are warm in the sun. They smile.
Maybe one day, another thousand mornings from now, they will come back and learn about the utter darkness of hate and the redeeming light of kindness. But not today. No, this morning all they know is that the smooth, hard pages make them feel good.
In addition, the Rocky's Lisa Ryckman presented "A Family of Brokenhearted," yet another entry in a lengthy string of tributes to Columbine principal Frank DeAngelis. Again, a fresh perspective wasn't just in short supply; it was entirely absent. If DeAngelis ever decides to get out of education, he should become a publicist, because he attracts puff pieces like an attic collects dust.
Over at the Post, the April 20 front-pager, "Columbine Shootings Remembered," followed the Meadow formula, with poor Kevin Simpson forced to stake out the memorial in the hope of getting a good quote or two -- a dream that went unfulfilled. Indeed, the closest thing to an interesting Columbine item in the Sunday Post appeared on the opinion pages courtesy of T.J. Wihera, a contributor to the Colorado Voices initiative, who wrote in "Yes, I Went to Columbine. No, Not Then" about his experiences as a student who attended the school after the killings. Wihera doesn't reveal anything particularly earth-shattering, but at least his observations weren't quite as shopworn as the ones displayed elsewhere.
On April 21, followup coverage proved more appropriate. The Rocky placed a modest-sized article about a lesser-known survivor deep inside the local news section. Its lack of prominence was underscored by the submission's initial absence from the paper's website; at this writing, it's not on either the home or main news pages and didn't surface in a site search. The folks at the Post had an even better idea. On April 21, they marked the occasion with a simple photograph inside its Denver and the West pages of a mourner at a different memorial, located on the grounds of the Olinger Chapel Hill Mortuary & Cemetery in Littleton. The image was more subtle and meaningful than all the other stories combined.
Had the papers' editors ordered a penetrating look at what remains, even after a more recent (and lethal) murder spree at Virginia Tech, the school shooting most Americans think of before any other, they might have justified the front-page play on April 19 and 20. Instead, staffers put minimum effort into the assignment, resulting in by-the-numbers coverage that seemed more obligatory than heartfelt. -- Michael Roberts
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