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Nov. 5, 2014, 11:53 a.m.
LINK: homicidewatch.org  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   November 5, 2014

More sad news from the startups-covering-local-crime world. Yesterday, it was Philadelphia’s GunCrisis.org that said it would stop daily reporting because of a lack of funding. Today, it’s an even more noted outfit: Homicide Watch D.C. will close at the end of the year, according to a release from cofounder (and friend of the Lab) Laura Amico and a post on the site.

We wrote what I believe was the first piece ever about Homicide Watch, back when it was just an idea in 2009. It became a reality, offering an unusual pitch: covering every homicide in Washington, from the death through the investigation and eventual trial. With a creative database backend built by Laura’s husband Chris, it gathered iterative data on each killing in a way that both honored the lives of the deceased and served a community of interested friends and family. Homicide Watch eventually expanded its model by licensing its software to news outlets and universities in Chicago, Trenton, and Boston, but the original site in Washington was disrupted when Laura came up to Cambridge on a Nieman-Berkman Fellowship in 2012. A Kickstarter campaign funded a team of interns who have kept the site going, but when Laura and Chris decided to stay in Boston, the D.C. site’s future became a question mark. (Laura recently took a full-time job at The Boston Globe.)

The other Homicide Watch sites have a local partner; the Amicos haven’t been able to find one in Washington. Laura says she hopes “the closure will not be permanent, that a local news organization, university, non-profit, or other group might want to bring the site back.” But they’ve had those conversations with “many D.C. organizations, time and again, and the reality is that no matter the audience or cost, this work is explicitly not a priority for many.”

Here’s Laura’s note:

After covering every homicide in Washington D.C., for more than four years, Homicide Watch D.C. will close January 1, 2015.

Chris and I launched Homicide Watch D.C. in September 2010 when we were D.C. residents. I ran the site, mostly out of D.C. Superior Court, for more than two years while I lived in D.C. For another two years, Chris and I have run the site from Boston, first while I completed a Nieman-Berkman fellowship in journalism innovation and then after we stayed in the area.

While Homicide Watch D.C. has continued as a high-quality local news site, thanks in large part to our crew of very talented interns, the reality is that local news should be directed by people who live in the community. Without any local owners, we have decided that it is no longer feasible to continue publishing.

This means that homicides that are committed after Dec. 31 will not be covered on HWDC. We won’t add new arrests to the database, though we will regularly check the status of cases that remain open on Dec. 31 and update the database with relevant dismissals, acquittals, guilty pleas and convictions. We will also continue to moderate comments. In a few weeks we will begin publishing our final Year in Review series. It will, as always, be full of feature stories, guest columns, and a data-driven look back on 2014. But after Dec. 31 we will not have reporters at the courthouse and we will no longer be covering hearings or trials.

The closing of Homicide Watch D.C. does not impact the operations of our sister sites, Homicide Watch Chicago, run in partnership with the Chicago Sun-Times, Homicide Watch Trenton, in partnership with the Trentonian, and Homicide Watch Boston, in partnership with Northeastern University.

And we hope that the closure will not be permanent, that a local news organization, university, non-profit, or other group might want to bring the site back.

The D.C. audience is a valuable one: Over the past year, the site has averaged a half-million pageviews a month, with users spending around five minutes on site. People come back to the site again and again, and we regularly get emails thanking us for our coverage.

The cost of running of the site is, effectively, one full-time reporter. But these are selling points we’ve made to many D.C. organizations, time and again, and the reality is that no matter the audience or cost, this work is explicitly not a priority for many. We hope that will change. If it does, we look forward to seeing Homicide Watch D.C. thrive once again.

Recognitions for Homicide Watch D.C. include the Knight Award for public service journalism, ONA general excellence finalist, National Press Foundation special citation, Sunlight Open Gov Champions, Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism notable entry.

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