Yeah, it would be really interesting. Chris is working on a project with WBUR right now that takes the concepts and applies them to a different beat, and we have another project like this in the works. The concept for our beat structure is this:
(and put your imagining hats on)
A beat should be built on a foundation of reporting. The walls of the beat are community resources, i.e. your documents, calendars, etc. The interior space is for the community. It's where people come to respond, react, discuss.
You need the reporting to hold up the structure, and the structure creates the space, hopefully a space space, for the community to be a part of your reporting.
Soon after we started Homicide Watch, people started saying "homicides, yeah, great. Can we do this with education?"
Apparently everyone wants a better education beat! It's a project I'd love to think more about and work on and I think that there are some interesting ways to do it.
I'll let you all know if we launch anything!
Absolute. Homicides happen to people by people. We cover the criminal justice system, which is made up of people who are detectives, attorneys, courtroom clerks, judges, bailiffs.
A story about a crime is a story about how all these people interact, and what happens when they interact. There are datapoints around that: there are locations of crimes, there's evidence, there's names, ages, races, genders, etc. But the most important element is the story... and the story is about people.
The database mimics the steps a reporter takes in newsgathering.
So it prompts you for the story basics (which is essentially data) the location of the crime, the time and date, names, ages, races, genders, case status, DOB, DOD, obit link, etc.
The difference that the software makes is that where most reporters put these details into their story, then toss the notebook, we save those details in the database and make them publicly available.
We also try to structure our data around how others are already collecting this data. Ideally, when the FBI's Supplemental Homicide Report comes out, we're able to compare our data in a way that is apples-to-apples.
We're always iterating on the database and software, too. There are a number of things on our list that we want to add. We recently added case closures to the database so we could track how many cases were closed by arrest vs. death of suspect etc.
I think the tagline/mission of the site makes ALL the difference.
Homicide Watch promises readers to "Mark every death. Remember every victim. Follow every case."
It's a pledge that says that we take the topic seriously and that we include everyone. It's resonated very deeply with people. I heard from a young woman about a year ago whose father had been killed that being able to go to Homicide Watch and look at his victim page made not only his death feel more real to her, but that it helped her remember him as well.
Multiply that by every family. And it's not just victims' families. It's suspects' families too, because they are going through the same struggle of learning to understand the criminal justice system... and maybe dealing with a loss, too.
And then it's the detectives who work these cases, the attorneys who handle them, the doctors and nurses who treat victims... it's saying to all these people that we take what they do, and what's happening to them, seriously. That we see it and recognize it and see and recognize them as a part of our community. That every one and everyone is newsworthy.
We were lucky to be able to convey all that in a tagline!
Newtown was difficult. It was the last day of the semester here at Harvard, I was putting together Year in Review, and I remember crying that night thinking about the tragedy the town was feeling.
I'm not a "hardened news reporter." I think that the best thing is to be honest, to be aware, of what you're feeling. Professionally, when things get overwhelming I think it's useful to think about how your emotions reflects on the story, and how it's changing your story.
Having people you can talk to, too, is so important. Whether it's your editor, a colleague, an old friend, a spouse, find someone who you can count on to just check in with when you're working on these pieces.
It's sort of my annual reckoning with the emotions of the year.
Chicago is very close to launch. It's exciting for us to be working with the Sun-Times on that site because is such an important place to have these conversations about violent crime.
The pace of homicide in Chicago is daunting, of course. And it will be really interesting to see how the newsroom handles that. They're already doing really great reporting on homicides this year, and have done a number of terrific stories. It'll be fascinating to see what we learn from the community interaction with that site, and also the data.
I'm signed out a bit from the daily business plans because I am doing the Nieman-Berkman fellowship which requires that I step back and reflect, learn, emerse in Cambridge. Chris has done well getting those two sites up and moving quickly... and there's more in the works!
We'll probable be looking at bringing a designer on to our team, at least part time, very soon. We're thinking seriously about how to scale up, when, and in what direction.
Learning the business side of journalism has been tough... but being here at Harvard has helped me build skills to do it, too. We're feeling good going into the summer!
This will be our last question for Laura. Thanks to everyone who submitted one!
I'd love to see Homicide Watch in every major city.
I'd love to see universities implement the project as training for young journalists, as we're doing in DC.
But the bigger question is where will journalism be in five years... will it look more like Homicide Watch or something different?
Chris and I try to always be thinking about how the product works, what it does, what it accomplishes. In five years, those goals may be different, there may be different tools. We want to stay in a place that keeps us at the forefront of these innovations... and keeps us providing journalism that we feel is important.
(not a dodge, just truth ;) )
Laura, thanks so much for joining us. Chris, if you’re still there, it was great to have you be a part of this as well. Good luck with the remainder of your time in Cambridge. We’ll be watching to see what Homicide Watch does next!
Thanks Davis! And thanks to everyone who joined in! Feel free to tweet us @LauraNorton and @eyeseast... we're happy to follow up!