2012-08-30

Co.Exist

#GunCrisis: Citizen Journalism For A Violent Epidemic

An ambitious project is chronicling Philadelphia’s explosion of gun crime, in the hopes of finding some solution to stop us from shooting each other.

The summer of 2012 was one of the most violent in Philadelphia’s history. On July 12, 2012, one of the worst nights of the summer, eight Philadelphians were shot in the span of 90 minutes. From August 6 through August 12, the last week when statistics were publicly available from the Philadelphia Police Department, gun violence was everywhere—six homicides, 56 cases of robbery involving guns, and 64 cases of aggravated assaults where guns were used. In response to the city’s endemic gun violence, a team of journalists and academics launched The Gun Crisis Reporting Project, or #guncrisis—a crowdsourced journalism project for Philadelphia gun violence reports.

According to one of the primary figures behind the project, Jim MacMillan, manager for media and social responsibility at Swarthmore College’s Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, violent crime is a "public health issue" that needs to be tackled like a disease epidemic. MacMillan works on the site with a team of writers and photographers who document shootings, funerals, memorials, and police events. In Philadelphia, an unusual media market where the city’s two daily newspapers share the same owner, the city’s ongoing struggle with crime has provided fertile journalistic territory for alternative newsweeklies, independent websites, and citizen journalists.

On August 27, a typical day for #GunCrisis, the site covered a memorial procession for a slain police officer, a police officer shot overnight in suburban Bucks County, and an anti-violence block party in West Philadelphia. "There’s a of momentum in the city and we’ve activated that," says MacMillan. "We have met with city officials on various levels, taken a hard look at the problem, and connect journalists to lawmakers." The site’s six staff members all engage in primary-source, on-site reporting of gun violence in Philadelphia and the surrounding area.

The site, which was launched in early 2012, was inspired by MacMillan’s attendance at a youth violence conference. Speakers at the conference compared youth violence to a public health crisis, which inspired the narrow focus and ideologically driven nature of #GunCrisis. #GunCrisis is currently bootstrapped by the site’s contributors and does not receive any outside funding beyond PayPal donations. Contributors to the site include photojournalist Joe Kaczmarek, Philadelphia Weekly columnist Tara Murtha, photojournalist Tom Kelly IV, and writers Peak Johnson and Aaron J. Moser.

One of #GunCrisis’s major goals, according to MacMillan, is keeping the victims of gun violence in the news. In most cases, the names of shooting victims are not disclosed by the authorities until family members have been notified several days later. For obvious reasons, identifications are not made by the media—but by the time a victim’s name and age have been disclosed, newspapers, television and radio have already moved on to the salacious details of the next shooting.

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