WASHINGTON -- Homicide Watch wants to mark every death in the District of Columbia. Remember every victim. Follow every case. And they need $40,000 to do it.
Laura and Chris Amico announced earlier this week that their much-lauded website Homicide Watch D.C. -- which for two years has comprehensively covered every murder in the nation's capital -- would be put on hold while Laura studies at Harvard on a 10-month Nieman fellowship.
Wednesday, the pair announced they'd keep the site going if they could raise $40,000 on Kickstarter by mid-September.
The funding would go toward a one-year project, to teach journalism students how to do crime reporting, using the Homicide Watch platform -- which Laura and Chris have tried to license to other publications in various forms; the Nieman blog reports that a deal falling through at the last minute is what prompted the site's hiatus.
Here's Nieman staff writer Adrienne LaFrance describing on the blog why the platform is so useful:
The database is part of what makes Homicide Watch special because it enables the site to go beyond the intimate coverage -- every victim by name -- of homicide. The database allows the quick creation and collation of maps, demographic info on victims and suspects, and information on the progression of cases.
“This is all data that I’m gathering because it’s in the course of our normal reporting,” Amico says. “Really, at a moment’s notice, I can write a story saying 35 people have pled guilty in this period of time and here’s a list of them.” Amico can also check those anecdotal reporter’s hunches that come with closely covering a beat. A couple of weeks ago, for example, three homicides in one weekend felt like more than usual over a relatively quiet couple of years.
The Amicos are looking for five interns now -- they'll be compensated -- on top of the $40,000 to keep the site live.
Nearly $10,000 has been pledged as of Wednesday evening, a day after the Kickstarter launched. There's a new post on the site, too -- an update on the murder of Amber Kent, who was stabbed at her apartment building in Congress Heights in early June.
Here's the full Kickstarter pitch:
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.
Want to help? Click here.