A curated roundup of the week’s media coverage of the Homicide Watch DC kickstarter campaign.
Since Homicide Watch had to close its doors a few weeks ago, Antoinette Mitchell, Bidley Warren and Stephan Manuel Pool have been murdered in DC. Their stories will go untold. Those who come after them will be forgotten. I’m asking you as a backer, a journalist, as a survivor. To help close the gap.
For the victims. For the students who will tell their stories and be supported financially to do so. For the friends I’ve lost, whose murders have been forgotten.
Homicide Watch matters because they are more than just thorough, they’re innovative. They’ve designed the site like a set of feeds and a wiki rather than like the crime section of a newspaper. The home page shows the most recent updates on all pending cases. Each victim gets their own page, where those updates are aggregated. Every murder is mapped. Every page has the tip line for the detective assigned to the case. Every page hosts a place for remembrance of the victim.
This way of working isn’t just technologically innovative, it’s socially innovative, in a way journalism desperately needs. The home page of Homicide Watch shows photos of the most recent seven victims; as I write this, all seven, are, as usual, African-American. Like a lot of white people, I knew, vaguely, that crime was worse in black neighborhoods than in white ones, but actually seeing the faces, too often of kids not much older than my own, makes it clear how disproportionately this crime is visited on African-Americans.
This is one of their most remarkable innovations: murder coverage has always been racially biased in this country. The old saying for New York papers was not to bother covering murders north of 96th street, where the victims were almost certainly black. The casual exclusion of most citizens from most DC crime coverage is a continuation of that legacy; news organizations aren’t generally in the business of introducing their readers to the realities of life elsewhere in their town. Simon Anderson, father of 5, was gunned down in northwest DC. Terrance Robinson was killed in southeast DC the day before. Antwan Boseman was shot to death two miles south and three hours earlier. And so on, and on, and on.
Mahoganie writes in her DC blog Mahoganie: Musings East of the Anacostia River:
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.
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.
If you need more of a nudge, check out Homicide Watch. It’s one of the best examples I’ve seen of a local journalism startup. I want it to survive and I hope you’ll contribute to its Kickstarter campaign (I have) to keep it going while founder Laura Norton Amico is at Harvard on a Nieman Fellowship.
I want to see quality journalism thrive. I want to see Laura’s vision, enterprise and innovation rewarded. I want to see crowdfunding grow as a revenue source for quality journalism. Let’s make this work.
Through a mix of database and shoe-leather reporting, the site has covered every homicide in the city in recent years, under the banner “Mark every death. Remember every victim. Follow every case.” The site has become, in equal measure, a place for citizens to learn about violent crime in their neighborhoods and for victims’ loved ones to grieve and share memories.
For those of us who grew up in Washington in the 1980s and early ‘90s, too easily remembering the body counts and police scandals from the crack wars, it’s amazing this site even has a place to begin. But the city has come a long way, and one wonders how information, transparency and the crowd can assist on the rest of the journey forward. Even with multiple council members out and our mayor in trouble now, an aware population keeps pushing the city ahead. Progress is arriving apart from leadership.
Let’s be real. The media only reports on homicides when they’re sensational and/or feature pretty white girls. Homicide Watch D.C.(one of the most innovative experiments in Internet journalism) is trying to change that by elevating the conversation and the D.C. community’s understanding of violent crimes by reporting on every single homicide in the D.C. area over the course of one year. Homicide Watch D.C. has done some groundbreaking (and award-winning) work in its first two years, but it needs our help to stay alive for what promises to be an amazing third year.
The Sidney Hillman Foundation covered Homicide Watch on their blog, saying:
Homicide Watch is a young journalism startup that reports on every single murder in Washington, DC. No other media outlet comes close. Murder victims in DC are disproportionately black and poor, and their stories are underrepresented in mainstream media coverage. Homicide Watch provides an invaluable service to members of beleaguered communities.
I told someone yesterday about backing them on Kickstarter and they mentioned how impossible it seems that this crew gets so much information about each and every murder. But they do. Because they are not only amazing human beings, but they have a simple, fresh and unique way of reporting. Something I wish all reporters did.
Have we missed a link? Leave it in the comments or send it to us on Twitter: @HomicideWatch.
And if you’ve been waiting to make a donation and become a backer of Homicide Watch DC, now is the moment we need your help. We need 225 $25 pledges in 5 days to make our goal. Stand with us in saying: Mark every death. Remember every victim. Follow every case.