EdMedia Commons Archive

Can a Site About Murder Victims Inspire Education Reporting?

Crowdfunding’s potential was on full display this week as donors kept a website that chronicles the lives of murder victims in the nation’s capital from shuddering. What can education reporters learn from the way that site operates and the nerve it struck with its local readers?

The effort to save the innovative, hyperlocal Homicide Watch DC brought in more fundraising cash than its authors were expecting. In mid-August the site’s founder Laura Amico, a veteran crime reporter, announced that she would be leaving her brainchild to study journalism innovation at Harvard as a Nieman-Berkman fellow. Despite her departure, she and her husband Chris Amico set a goal to raise $40,000 to launch a yearlong paid internship programthat would train promising journalism students how to report on homicides.

Through the fundraising website Kickstarter, Homicide Watch DC raised over $46,000 in fewer than 30 days, providing more than enough cash to bring on five part-time interns who’ll keep the experiment in tracking murders going. The site’s original mission and its proposed evolution into a student-journalism lab might have some elements that local education writers can glom onto. Just as the original motto for Amico’s project, which has been up and running for two years, was “Mark every death. Remember every victim. Follow every case,” enterprising education writers can mark every issue that plays out in the hallways and playgrounds of schools and colleges.

Homicide Watch DC succeeded by combining shoe-leather reporting, database management, document collection, with the expression of voices that are usually left out of the quick briefs in traditional media outlets. Education writers could adapt those ideas and partner with school newspapers or other youth-related clubs to pierce the administrative walls that tend to keep traditional reporters peering into campuses from the outside. Incidents that seem like outliers could start to look like trends when a whole city of schools and colleges is connected to a single site.

Since 2010, Homicide Watch has won plaudits from the Columbia Journalism Review (“The website covers every murder in DC.”) and U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen (“It used to be out of sight, out of mind. Now, when an incident happens, you can see a real person who’s been killed. The more face you put on the victims, the more people might have the courage to stand up and help law enforcement solve the case.”).

Could an education project have the same impact; if so, what would such a site look like? Tell us if your newsrooms are pursuing something similar.

Image: Screenshot of Homicide Watch DC’s map of murders

This post originally appeared on EWA’s now-defunct online community, EdMedia Commons. Old content from EMC will appear in the Ed Beat archives.