Homicide Watch DC, the pioneering website that’s covered murder in the District for two years, dies Friday, August 17.
“Laura might go to court tomorrow,” says Chris Amico of his wife, with whom he developed the site. Her dispatches from court have animated the website. After that, “that’s kind of it.”
And with that, the flow of daily information and conversation about murder—the grimmest side of the nation’s capital—will end. It might be more accurate to say Homicide Watch will be in a coma.
“The site will stay on the Internet,” Amico says. “People can still comment, but there will be no new information. It will sit idle.”
Laura Amico, 30, learned crime reporting in her native California. When Chris, 31, landed a journalism tech job in DC in 2009, she came along. While here, she asked herself why murders received scant coverage, and with Chris developed a website that’s given life to the dead. For her breakthrough, Laura Amico was awarded the first Nieman-Berkman Fellowship in Journalism Innovation. She leaves next week for Cambridge to attend classes at Harvard. Chris will follow.
And a unique and valuable window into homicides will close.
The site reached 330,000 readers in June, Chris says. People visited to see photos of the dead, breaking news about murders, dispatches and documents from every court case, and comments from friends and family members. The site became a place where Washingtonians could go to share and mourn.
“I’m not generally a fan of websites,” US Attorney Ronald Machen, DC’s top prosecutor, told The Washingtonian in a February 2012 feature, “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.”
The idling of Homicide Watch says much about how the media values life in the nation’s capital. For the past six months, the Amicos have been trying to find a media or academic partner to keep Homicide Watch alive.
“We just couldn’t get anyone who wanted to take it on,” Amico says. He says he and Laura approached most major news operations and at least two universities. They asked for a licensing fee of less than $1,000 a month, with the offer of helping maintain the site.
“A lot of people in the media don’t know how to think about this coverage,” he says. “Their approach is, ‘It’s great you guys are doing it. We never could.’”
The biggest cost, he explains, would be to hire a full-time reporter. “Laura and I would help, but news operations said they didn’t have a reporter to spare.”
The Amicos are trying to raise $40,000 through Kickstarter, a nonprofit organization that crowdsources funds through the Internet.
“With $40,000 we could fund five students to operate the site as interns for the next year,” Amico says. “It would be a student reporting lab. We would take on students and train them. They would run the site, and we would oversee them. The money would go to the interns, not to us.”
What does the fate of Homicide Watch say about journalism in general and DC in particular?
“It speaks more to what the media in this city collectively values,” says Chris, who worked as a digital journalist on websites for both PBS NewsHour and NPR. “It’s not a reflection of what we were able to do; it’s a sign of what editors and reporters want to put their effort into. Anybody could do it. It takes one reporter.”
Apparently the cost to cover homicide was too high.
For more on the Amicos’ student lab proposal, see their Kickstarter video.