Last week caught me off guard as I finished up a few assignments, ran some errands…oh and ended up with the worse case of an acid reflux and stomach virus combination. I set out to write this post sometime in the week as the subject caught my eye, thanks to a tweet by the Huffington Post about a kickstarter project. However, as anyone can imagine, after falling ill I was down for a few days. Now that I’m feeling 100 percent I can pick up where I left off.
The Huffington Post spotlighted Homicide Watch DC, a project developed and run by husband and wife journalists, Laura and Chris Amico. Originally launched in 2010 as a blog, Homicide Watch DC is an informative website that is focused specifically on criminal justice reporting in the nation’s capital as it tracks every homicide that takes place. Seeking to answer their own question – ”could a digital platform for reporting of homicides improve one community’s understanding of violent crime and raise the level of conversation about homicide?” – Laura and Chris figured the answer is yes. Within a year, the Amicos revamped the website in order to add a database that tracks each case they cover from the crime to the conviction.
Earlier this year, Washingtonian Magazine featured the Amicos with comments from US Attorney Ronald Machen about the value of Homicide Watch DC;
“I’m not generally a fan of Web sites, but this is different and valuable. Victims of violent crime in Washington, DC, get little or no attention from the major news outlets. People are numb.” – Ronald Machen to Washingtonian Magazine Feb. 10, 2012
It was hard to escape DC’s nickname(s), Murder Capital or Dodge City, as I grew up here in the 80s. It’s no secret that our murder rate was ridiculously high and believe it or not, we had a reputation outside of the four quadrants and surrounding suburbs. I still find it both comical and disturbing that a stranger I met in New Orleans (pre-Katrina) winced when he learned that I am from southeast DC. He literally told me;
“I know I’m from the ninth ward, but I’ve been to DC. I know what yall cats in SE are all about. I can’t hang with yall. Yall cats are rough.”
Yeah, I know…another stereotype, but that goes to show that the nation…even the world is watching us. This encounter took place long after the 80s; in 2003 to be exact. By then our homicide rate was on the decline. During its height in the 80s and early 90s, homicides were covered in the news, either as a blip or (depending on the intensity, circumstances and who was involved) it garnered detailed coverage; such as the case of Catherine Fuller, a 1984 murder case that gained national attention, and was somewhat unresolved as those convicted sought a new trial (in 2011) until a judge upheld the convictions earlier this month. From my standpoint, the coverage of homicides in the District is about the same from the time I was a kid to now as an adult in my 30s; treated as a blip or depending on the who, what, when, where and why, it gets major coverage.
Although it is unclear when the Amicos moved to the District, one thing is for certain, when they arrived they were shocked that homicides weren’t treated as newsworthy or important as any other topical news. Hence, the birth of Homicide Watch DC. Now it seems that keeping up with each case is becoming a handful and the Amicos need help. Their hope is launch a one-year student reporting lab within Homicide Watch DC, where Laura will train journalism students interested in crime reporting. The kickstarter is to raise funds for the lab program which will “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.”
On the Homicide Watch DC kickstarter page, the Amicos boast:
“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.”
The Amicos will only choose five students to participate and they will compensate them. With only a little over 20 days left in the kickstarter fundraiser, Homicide Watch DC is seeking to raise $40,000. Already, they have raised over $14,000.
This seems like a fantastic idea that even I, as that financial struggle is oh so real for me, is considering contributing. However, my only hope (or concern) is that the Amicos select a diverse group of reporters. Without sounding too preachy or political, the reality in this industry is that diverse newsrooms are little to none. Things are in such dire straits, the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) are recommitting themselves to the mission of diversity.
Of course I’ll share this information to all that I know, and then some, in hopes to generate more buzz. I would love for ANY young budding journalist to have this opportunity.
Check out the Homicide Watch DC kickstarter page. Good luck to the Amicos, Homicide Watch DC and potential students that will be participating.