#GunCrisis project update: June, 2012

GunCrisis.org launched less than three months ago, as a companion to a documentary in production this summer, both seeking solutions to the epidemic of homicide by gunfire in Philadelphia. The site is also intended as an exercise in process journalism, sharing every step with the community in an effort to direct and enhance outcomes.

Soon, the site took on a life of it’s own, with sharp audience growth and engagement, and with experts from all walks chiming in to offer assistance. We have been the subject of reports from Generocity.org and the Philadelphia Weekly, and we presented at BarCamp News Innovation Philadelphia. Now, the project is running full-time, with an expanded staff and two interns summer interns.

Here is the challenge: On the average, at least one person has been murdered in Philadelphia every day over the last 25 years — approaching 10,000 people altogether — and more than three-quarters of them have been killed with a gun.

In other words, more people have died at the end of a gun in Philadelphia since 9/11, than were killed be terrorists on that date. By another measure, nearly as many Americans have died in Philadelphia since the start of US combat operations in Iraq in 2003 as were killed during the entire conflict.

With a small number of notable exceptions, we feel that traditional media is failing to live up to this crisis, and that the reasons are complex.

First, we have seen a dramatic contraction in newsroom staffing over the past decade. For example, news organizations no longer staff their former offices at the Philadelphia Police Administration Building.

Pairing grim news with advertising has proven less efficacious as audiences migrate online, for instance resulting in the awkward juxtaposition of pre-roll advertising with video reports from crimes scenes.

The daily death toll lacks novelty, a traditional news value criterion. Deaths of bystanders, children and police officers get a great deal of attention, but others are met with only a glance, or less.

At the same time, we have learned that the daily grind of homicide coverage can lead to trauma fatigue, and actually make audiences care less, not more.

Our response is to combine the tide of bad news with solutions and resources, where visitors can turn for help — or even better — bring their support to the many groups and individuals working to disrupt the cycle of violence.

In a nutshell, we contend that there is an underreported epidemic of homicide by gunfire in Philadelphia and similar cities. We intend to fill the gaps in reporting while avoiding blame and polarizing debates, and while always seeking alternative solutions.

GunCrisis.org was inspired by a recent conference on youth violence reporting, lead by the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at Columbia University, and presented at WHYY in Philadelphia.

We learned about youth violence as a public health issue, the success of CeaseFire Chicago and watched The Interrupters, a 2011 documentary about grassroots activist working to disrupt violence in Chicago, but reminding us of some groups in Philadelphia.

Criminology has shown us that violence can be reduced when we bring communities together and bring solutions to light. Epidemiology shows us how to disrupt transmission of violence and change behaviors.

We are implementing strategies from process journalism and solutions-oriented journalism, ultimately striving to put ourselves out of business by eliminating the problem. Trauma journalism studies will guide our sense of responsibility to all parties, and best practices in conflict journalism lead us to look at the roots of the issue. Building a community through social media journalism is our organizational foundation.

So far, volunteers are contributing content and offering professional support — and everybody is working without compensation, but that won’t last forever. Sustaining this endeavor will call for some fundraising, and we may pursue nonprofit status or move under the umbrella of an existing organization.

Fo now, we have a small but growing community of contributors, and we curate and redistribute existing content. Last month we launched an iPhone app, this month we are looking into crowd-funding.

What can you do? Let us know if you want to participate. Share our reporting with your communities. If you can give, there’s a donation button at the bottom of the right column.

Thank you from GunCrisis.org.

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