Posted by: structureofnews | September 27, 2013

Learning From Homicide Watch

old-classroomGreat news: Laura and Chris Amico, the team behind the smart, award-winning – revolutionary – Homicide Watch site, are branching out into a new area.  And they’re bringing the notions of structured journalism with them.

In a post at Nieman Labs, Laura talks about how they’ll be partnering with Boston public radio station WBUR to launch a vertical focused on K-12 education in Massachusetts. And not just any vertical: One with structured data, collected by journalists, at its heart – adding Learning Lab, as they’re calling it, to the small roster of news sites such as Homicide Watch, Politifact, and Connected China that are experimenting with this form of journalism.

The expansion of the narrative data concept from violent crime to education is a significant one, and Learning Lab offers Chris and me an opportunity to further test our theories about innovative news structures, this time within an existing news organization. Our goal is to turn daily reporting into structured, reusable data. This means we will be able to see how any given reform initiative fits into the larger picture of education in the Commonwealth, and it means we can ask questions of our data. It means we won’t lose information, and we’ll be able to provide the public with access to source documents, data, and tools to increase visibility and transparency of specific reform efforts and experiments.

It’s early days yet, but Laura and Chris will now get to marry their experience from Homicide Watch with more resources, on a topic that’s of huge interest – and potentially dripping with data – to a large community. Education matters to lots of parents – and certainly a fair number of students – but they generally come to the topic in multiple different ways, and at different times.  Everyone cares about the same broad issues of funding, teachers’ pay and working conditions, presumably; but someone trying to figure out what school to send their child to has far different interests from someone who wants to know if or why the school their son is in is underperforming state averages; and so on.

Which should provide an excellent test of how well a large audience that’s as engaged with deep dives into information as it is with breaking news and investigative reports will respond to a structured journalism-type site. It’ll certainly be a very different experience from most other news sites, as Laura points out (and thanks for the shout-out, Laura):

Homicide Watch D.C. was a project in what Reg Chua calls “structured journalism.” This, I truly believe, is what set Homicide Watch D.C. apart from all other murder blogs, homicide maps, and similar projects.

I’m sure Laura and Chris will be just as successful with Learning Lab – not just with creating structures that serve their audience better, but using those structures to do better reporting.  Which will help serve their audience even better.  Now that’s a virtuous cycle.

And as we build we will work to find ways to make individual reporters more effective in the work they are already doing. We believe the right tools make good reporters more powerful. And powerful reporters are at the heart of informed, engaged and active communities. This is the space where Homicide Watch succeeds. And it is where Learning Lab will thrive, too.


  1. […] Great news: Laura and Chris Amico, the team behind the smart, award-winning – revolutionary – Homicide Watch site, are branching out into a new area. And they’re bringing the notions of structured journalism with them.  […]

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