Reporters, take heart. At least one news outlet got it right. “The first print story arrived in an extra edition of the Rocky Mountain News,” Cullen notes. “It went to press at three o’clock on Tuesday afternoon, before the bodies in the library were found. The Rocky’s 900-word summary of the massacre was an extraordinary piece of journalism—gripping, empathetic, and astonishingly accurate. It nailed the details and the big picture: two ruthless killers picking off students indiscriminately. It was the first story published that spring to get the essence of the attack right—and one of the last.” (Alas, this exemplar of scrupulous reporting went out of business on Friday, February 27, just a few weeks before Columbine hit the shelves.)
Throughout his narrative, Cullen names names of news organizations and individuals who got the story wrong (and those who came close to getting it right). Reading the book carefully for these darts and laurels would constitute a rewarding exercise for any journalist. Beyond that worthy if gossipy exercise, the author’s investigative reporting techniques are on abundant display, not only in the text but in the forty pages of endnotes and bibliography. Columbine promises to be a classic of in-depth journalism—with, again, some sobering evidence of how widely journalists can miss the mark.