Covering Murder: Blogs, Maps and Databases

Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

The reality is that Chris and I looked at lots of other projects that were trying to do what we were thinking of doing with Homicide Watch DC.

Those projects, many of which were excellent, helped us think about our priorities, our editorial approach, and our goals before we even started designing a website or reporting stories.

Because I know how important that research is, and how valuable that conversation between what’s-been-done and what-we-can-do is, I am now so incredibly proud to see Homicide Watch used as inspiration for other projects, and I am always interested to see how others interpret how Homicide Watch DC works… and how it might work for their communities.

I didn’t have the experience in 2009 when brainstorming Homicide Watch to take myself through an analytical process with the inspiration sites I was using. But I was looking for a few very specific things: What editorial question the site/project was trying to answer, who the site/project was for, and what my first reaction to the site/project was. Beyond this, I paid attention to what I wanted to do with the site/project/ information. Where did I want to click, but there was no link? What did I want more of? What was distracting?

I looked at a lot of projects. And in that process, patterns started to emerge. Sites tended to be good at data, or good at story-telling. But few bridged the two. Maps were a central feature on nearly every project. Community comments tended to be robust and meaningful. And all projects struggled to stay staffed and active beyond two years.

This was my starting point.

Since then I’ve worked on projects that didn’t have good analogs to model innovation on. But the questions, I think remain the same. We just ask them in different ways.

This spring, Glass Eye Media began working with students at the University of Colorado Boulder to build a project tracking and reporting on gun deaths statewide. For that project, Colorado Gun Deaths, students used a process called “empathy mapping.”

Based on a worksheet from Stanford’s Design School, we led students through a process of identifying what their audience was saying, thinking, feeling, and doing about gun deaths in the state. Those answers led to their identifying tools that audiences needed to access and interact with the reporting. The students then built paper prototypes of the tools and their site.

In this case, even though we weren’t building the model off of existing sites/projects/products, we built off a body of knowledge about what we knew and had experienced. Most importantly, we did it in an analytical and organized way.

Here’s a list of murder maps/ homicide blogs that I bookmarked and looked at while brainstorming Homicide Watch, or that launched after Homicide Watch. I’d love to add to this list and continue watching how these projects evolve. If I’ve missed a link (and I’m sure I have) leave it for me in comments or Tweet to @LauraNorton and I’ll add it.

Homicide Report, LA Times

Murder NYC, New York Times

Murder in America, Wall Street Journal

OKC Homicides Map, The Oklahoman

Homicide Watch, Modesto Bee

The Homicide Report, Toledo Blade

The Homicide Report, Richmond Times-Dispatch

Oakland Homicides, The Oakland Tribune

Homicide Database, Tulsa World

Shine in Peace, Susie Cagle

Una Vida es Una Vida, Claudia Méndez Arriaza

Gory Prince George’s D.C. Russell

Murder Under the Microscope, Washington Post