Within minutes of confirmation that a gunman had opened fire at an El Paso, Tex., Walmart on Aug. 3, our staff published a story and dispatched freelancers to the scene. While avoiding rumors of multiple shooters and varying death tolls erroneously reported by other news outlets, our team of 20 reporters, videographers, researchers and photographers kept our story fresh and accurate.
Word of a second shooting came hours later, at about 1:30 a.m. ET. We were the first national news outlet at the scene in Dayton, positioning us to send out a mobile alert about the attack before dawn. The dual tragedies challenged our staff to break through the formulas of mass shooting coverage. Instead of two news events, we approached them as a single national moment, exemplified by our five-column front-page headline that we tweeted out of that deadly weekend: “2 cities, 13 hours, 29 deaths” (the death toll later rose to 31).
The back-to-back shootings became a newsroom-wide effort on Day 2, with our staff breaking multiple news stories online: The Post was the first news organization to report that most of the hospitalized victims in El Paso did not want to meet with President Trump; we were the first to interview the Dayton shooter’s girlfriend, who told us “this was expected”; and we were the first to identify his Twitter account, moments before it was shut down. Our staff worked quickly to archive and screenshot the tweets, which showed a penchant for violence and leftist politics.
Key to The Post’s approach was balancing our experience in covering mass shootings with fresh, powerful methods of storytelling. We often were the first national news outlet at a scene; we expertly weeded through rumors and avoided erroneous information in the hours after the shootings; and our researchers obtained details and directed reporters to sources that kept us ahead of the competition. We published an obituary for each victim in El Paso and Dayton, and threaded those stories in tweets; we created a graphics page with data from our mass shooting database that put the shootings in historical context; and we built a multimedia presentation for mobile devices that paired similar, sobering photos from the two scenes.
We relied on a diverse staff, from veteran reporters to summer interns, who brought fresh eyes and insatiable energy to our reporting, landing scoops and keeping our reporting efforts moving at full speed for weeks.
While these shootings occurred in distinct and disparate communities, the national response was collective. The Post’s coverage of the shared pain in El Paso and Dayton was fast, thorough and powerful, compelling readers across the country to confront these horrific events.