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Breaking into news with Denver Post’s Vikki Migoya

An elephant loose at the Denver Zoo? The alert came across the police scanner. Major news outlets rushed to warn the public. Vikki Migoya’s first instinct: Get confirmation from the zoo before publishing anything about a pachyderm on the lam.

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What can an elephant teach us about news?

Turned out the zoo’s elephants were safe in their enclosures, and the phone call saved The Denver Post from publishing a false report.

“We weren’t first, but we were right, and that’s our goal,” Migoya, a veteran editor, told a roomful of MSU Denver students.

Migoya is the breaking news and online editor at The Denver Post. She visited the university April 11 as part of a course on the art of editing.

She operates in a fast-paced, evolving world. The Post has a digital-first philosophy, but now functions with 60 percent fewer employees than in 2007, Migoya said.

“We juggle a lot,” she said. “We all just have to pitch in and make sure things happen.”

Tweets, Facebook conversations and website analytics – terms that were nonexistent when Migoya entered the news business in the 1990s – are now a major part of her daily routine. Tweets from a court reporter, for instance, allow Migoya and her team to file lightning-fast Web updates on trials from the office. Sources, such as police and government representatives, use Twitter to issue breaking news alerts, too, making the news release more and more obsolete, Migoya said.

“Everyone we work with understands and works with social media in some capacity,” Migoya said.

Nowadays, headline writing for the Web is governed by SEO – search engine optimization. That means instead of brainstorming clever puns to use in titles, Migoya’s team tries to anticipate the search terms you might type into Google to find information.

Her staff of Web producers and reporters understands “this is the new reality,” she said.

In a sign of the times, Pulitzer judges praised the Post’s use of Facebook and Twitter, as well as video and the written word, to tell the story of the Aurora theater shootings. The Post’s online story about the shootings was updated 36 times before it ever went to print, according to Pulitzer.org. The comprehensive approach won the newspaper a 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News Reporting.

So, what should J-school students do to prepare for a career at a major daily newspaper?

Start by joining the staff of your college newspaper, but don’t stop there, Migoya advises. Find internships or volunteer at professional news operations.

And be ready for the demands of the job. “Just remember,” Migoya said, “it’s 24/7.”

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