By Whitney Carlson
University of Nebraska- Lincoln
Lee Ann Colacioppo can remember the story developing at The Denver Post.
The paper had teamed up with 9News to do an investigative report on the social welfare system. Apparently, neglect from caseworkers was leading to children’s deaths.
Since 2007, 175 children in Colorado’s social services had died of abuse and neglect.
According to the Colorado Department of Human Services, about 40 percent of these deaths could have been prevented. Caseworkers failed to conduct interviews and follow-up assessments, even when neighbors called in warnings and presented evidence of abuse.
When the story broke, people were outraged. Attention was focused on the social welfare system and on finding a solution to the problem.
At the time, Colacioppo was the senior news editor at The Post. Stories like this, she said, reinforce her love for journalism.
“There aren’t many other jobs where you can look at things that are clearly wrong and put a spotlight on them,” Colacioppo said. “You can see change happen.”
After the news investigations, laws were changed, funds were added to social services, training was revamped and a hotline was created.
“Changes in policy happen because they can’t turn away from it when we do a story on it,” she said.
Journalism can bring people together.
At the beginning of her career, Colacioppo worked in numerous newspapers around the United States before she settled back in Denver, her hometown. She spent a few years reporting and editing in Des Moines, Iowa, Kingsport, Tenn., and Greenville, S.C.
She was promoted to city editor in South Carolina and hasn’t been back to reporting since. She moved back to Des Moines as the assistant city editor and moved back to Denver in 1999 as assistant city editor of The Post.
Colacioppo has held different editing posts since her return to Denver, including city editor, enterprise team editor, investigations team editor and senior news editor, her current position.
Journalism has changed dramatically during her career, especially with the Internet’s popularity.
“I remember when fax machines were new,” she said.
The debut of the Internet was interesting, Colacioppo said. “We watched it come in, not knowing what to think.”
From there, Colacioppo said, she and her colleagues had to come to grips with how to use the Internet to better their business.
Colacioppo loves the ever-changing atmosphere and unpredictability of journalism.
“It’s different every day,” she said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
She remembers going to work at 3 a.m. to deal with the 2013 Colorado flooding. Every reporter at the paper was working on the story, and she decided where to send them and what stories to tell.
For Colacioppo, it was more than just a great professional challenge. It was a chance to inform the public of necessary information.
And that’s her favorite part of journalism: Making a difference in the world.
To foster that positive change, she advised journalism students to follow their passions, stay flexible and most importantly, keep digging for stories.
“Stay curious,” she said. “That’s the most important quality for a reporter to have.”