D.C. Start-up ‘Homicide Watch’ Could Die Without More Funding

D.C.-based Homicide Watch is one of the often pointed to examples of how a hyperlocal journalism start-up can plug coverage holes and make a difference, even in big cities with plenty of journalists already there. It covers murder in D.C. in a unique and ambitious way, from the ground up, which takes time to collect data and eyes to watch for mentions in social media.

But, the creators can’t sustain the project (founder Laura Amico is taking a one-year, out-of-area fellowship), and there’s no other local news partner that stepped up yet to take over. So they’re soliciting $40,000 in donations via Kickstarter to keep it alive. But right now, they’re just shy of $25,000, with only about a week to go.

Unless the public picks up the tick on donations — which will go to fund students who could do the work (and learn a lot) — the two-year-old start-up covering homicides in the U.S. Capital could itself die — or at the least go on a hiatus while Amico’s gone.

Why does it matter? Here’s what Clay Shirky wrote in pointing out how close the deadline to fund the Kickstarter is, and I think he outlines the site’s importance very well:

Homicide Watch is a two-year old journalism startup that reports on every murder in Washington, D.C. Every one. It is the only institution, in one of the most murderous cities in the country, that does. The Washington Post doesn’t, City Paper doesn’t, news radio doesn’t, local TV doesn’t. Just Homicide Watch. 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.

Here’s more round-ups with news about the site’s fate, and a great interview from On The Media.

Maybe D.C. just isn’t the best place for hyperlocal creativity. TBD failed (and died a slow death). Rob Curley’s visions of suburban Virginia microsites failed when he was at the Washington Post. But this site tracks something both more personal (the loss of an individual) and more grand (life and death) than either of those ventures. It will be interesting to see whether Homicide Watch can pull it off as a student reporting lab. I hope, for the sake of the community and for the sake of inspiring other start-ups, it does.