Homicide Watch D.C. uses clues in site search queries to ID homicide victim

One Reporter’s Notebook
Laura Amico, editor of Homicide Watch D.C., describes how she used site analytics to identify a homicide victim — again. Early Sunday morning, she saw a police department news alert stating that a juvenile male had been killed. She wrote an initial post. When she looked at Google Analytics, she saw a few different search queries that seemed to be related to the killing: People were searching for information on a killing the night before on the same street as in the news alert. After an hour of searching on Twitter and Facebook, she thought she had found the victim, a 17-year-old with a name similar to the one people were searching for. “I held on to my story until I was certain, but soon one of Jamar’s friends posted an RIP message to Twitter and linked to my initial report of the homicide. It was the confirmation I needed to run my story.”

Homicide Watch D.C. was the only news outlet with the victim’s identity until the police issued a press release Monday morning, 40 hours after the crime and 26 hours after Amico’s first post. Not only did that help traffic, she writes, but “those first hours were the most important moments for those responding to Jamar’s death. That the teen was killed was no secret in the neighborhood or online. Conversations were happening in public right then. That it took the police  and most media 36 hours to report what family, friends, neighbors and others already knew, was a missed opportunity to connect with the groundswell of reaction to Jamar’s death… and to understand the true impact of his death.” Amico told me via Twitter that she’s used analytics to identify homicide victims “early, first and correctly” about a half-dozen times this year. || Related: Homicide Watch D.C., buoyed by big growth, seeks a new home in a local newsroom (Nieman Journalism Lab)

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