Homicide Watch DC launched two years ago as an experiment in online criminal justice reporting. Our question was simple: Could a digital platform for reporting of homicides improve one community’s understanding of violent crime and raise the level of conversation about homicide? After two years, we now know the answer is Yes, and we’re launching a special one-year project within Homicide Watch DC: We want to train journalism students in crime reporting through use of the Homicide Watch platform, and we need your help.
The platform that we developed for Washington DC tracks every homicide case in the city from crime to conviction, using primary source documents, social networking and original reporting to build one of the nation’s most comprehensive public resources on violent crime.
Has Homicide Watch changed anything? US Attorney Ronald Machen says it has. He said of murder in DC, “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.” And in August 2011, Homicide Watch DC was recognized as a notable entry in the 2011 Knight-Batten Awards for Innovation in Journalism.
With these successes in hand, we’re launching a special one-year project: We want to see if journalism students can learn crime reporting through use of the Homicide Watch platform.
The platform is designed to guide reporters through the steps of crime reporting, prompting them to gather data and record and publish their activities, building a comprehensive resource that far exceeds what traditional crime reporters do. We think this makes the platform an ideal teaching tool for students.
A number of excellent and highly qualified students have already participated in our coverage as interns (Lindsey Anderson, Amanda Yeager). Students participating in the Digital Crime Beat Training Experiment will have expanded roles within Homicide Watch. Students will be responsible for all daily operations of the site including writing breaking news stories, collecting documents and data, moderating comments, and investigative reporting. They’ll also be responsible for special reports and packages including the annual Year in Review. In the course of this work, they’ll learn basic reporting skills including writing breaking news and feature stories, as well as advanced data collection, analysis and visualization, audience engagement and more.
They’ll also be responsible for contributing to a blog about their experiences covering crime and learning crime reporting. While their work on Homicide Watch DC will be edited by the Homicide Watch team, the blog will be a place for unfiltered reflection about what works and doesn’t work in coverage of violent crime.
We will be looking for approximately five highly-qualified students to take part in this project and they will be compensated for their efforts. Each student will spend approximately 15 hours a week for one semester, or equivalent time period, on the project until its completion in Aug. 2013.
What will we learn from them? How structured database reporting can train young journalists. If a platform can serve as a training vehicle. What the challenges and rewards are when approaching a crime beat as a cub reporter. What training is necessary to build strong digital criminal justice reporters. And more.
Veteran crime reporter Laura Amico has worked on the platform for two years, and she’ll be monitoring and guiding students through the one-year experiment.
Laura Amico is founder and editor of Homicide Watch, an innovative platform for data-driven coverage of violent crime. She’s a 2012-2013 Nieman-Berkman fellow in journalism innovation at Harvard. Laura began her career as an education reporter at the Register-Pajaronian in Watsonville, Calif. Later, she joined the Press Democrat’s newsroom in Santa Rosa, Calif. as their crime reporter. She’s a New York Times Chairman’s Award winner, a Knight News Entrepreneur Boot Camp alum, and has held fellowships with the Online News Association and the Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America. Laura is a board member of Criminal Justice Journalists, writes occasionally for The Crime Report, and blogs about beat reporting and entrepreneurial journalism at One Reporter's Notebook.
Homicide Watch DC is part of a growing network of Homicide Watch sites across the United States. Homicide Watch DC was recognized as a notable entry in the 2011 Knight-Batten Awards for Innovation in Journalism, was named an “Open Gov Champion” by the Sunlight Foundation, and has been covered by publications such as Nieman Lab, Columbia Journalism Review, and The Atlantic.
Yes! Our long-term business plan is to expand to other cities and partner with local news organizations or universities to set up Homicide Watch sites across the country.
We need to stabilize our DC site first (it's the best example of what our software platform and reporting method can do) but we hope to be in new cities very soon. If you know of (or better yet, work for) an organization we can partner with, please get in touch.
The money we raise will go to pay student interns. We want to make sure they can dedicate time to working on the site, so it's important to be able to compensate them for their effort. We're hoping to hire five students over the course of the next year, and we'll oversee them from Cambridge and train them on how to use the site.
Homicide Watch covers every murder, from crime to conviction, and organizes information around victims and suspects. We follow an "open notebook" policy, meaning almost everything we use in our reporting process ends up on the site: legal documents, a calendar of upcoming court dates, raw press releases and wanted posters are all available for readers.
We make an extra effort to bring in the voices of those affected by violent crime. Families of victims and suspects can write guest posts and share their experiences directly, and we highlight the best comments we receive.
For more on how Homicide Watch operates, listen to this interview with On the Media: http://www.onthemedia.org/2012/aug/17/homicide-watch/