Homicide Watch reaches fundraising goal, but how viable is its business model long-term?

Homicide Watch | Kickstarter | New York Times
With just three days left in its month-long Kickstarter campaign, Homicide Watch has reached the goal of $40,000 in pledges from more than 1,000 people to sustain the site for another year.

The Kickstarter campaign crossed its fundraising goal.

Since its launch in 2010, Homicide Watch has used a database as well as news articles to track homicide cases and victims in Washington. It was run solely by a two-person team, Laura and Chris Amico. The new funding will pay stipends for a “student reporting lab” of interns to run the innovative news site, as Laura Amico becomes a Nieman-Berkman Fellow. Amico writes:

Chris and I are working hard to get the student reporting lab up and running just as quickly as possible. We’ve reached out to some of the local journalism instructors we know already and have asked for recommendations. We’ll be doing a larger push to the schools this week. We’ll be going directly to students, too; later today we hope to post information for students seeking positions with Homicide Watch DC.

The campaign has benefited from strong publicity in the past month, but David Carr’s New York Times column this Sunday may have put it over the top. The campaign crossed the goal Sunday night.

Carr’s column looks at Homicide Watch’s difficult quest for funding and suggests these innovative efforts are a better investment in the future than simply paying newspaper reporters’ salaries:

Shouldn’t financing meant for journalistic innovation go to the green shoots like Homicide Watch and not be used to fertilize giant dead-tree media? I am all for putting more reporting boots on the ground, but the existential dilemma confronting media will require new answers, not stopgap funds for legacy approaches. (I write these words knowing that I may well eat them someday. I wonder if I would be so picky about the source of funds if I were the one being financed.)

It’s certainly good news that Homicide Watch reached its goal before this Thursday’s deadline, but now a new clock starts ticking. The $40,000 is not a sustainable endowment, just a stopgap to fund intern staffing for one year.

By this time next year, the site will have to develop a new funding source, such as licensing its technology to other news organizations (which it is now doing) and/or aggressively ramping up advertising.

Ads have been a difficult sell next to homicide coverage, but the Kickstarter campaign shows promise for the future of advertising on the site. Twenty-five donors have pledged $125 each in exchange for a one-month “sponsorship message” on the site, and one donor pledged $1,000 to sponsor the site’s annual year in review feature.

A small start, but success with these initial sponsors may open the door to more in the future.

Earlier: Homicide Watch established news beats as databases (Poynter) | Homicide Watch uses clues from site search queries to ID victim (Poynter) | Q&A: The Amicos on data journalism (O’Reilly Strata) | Homicide Watch seeks a new home in a newsroom (Nieman Lab)

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  • http://twitter.com/EdwardEricsonJr Edward Ericson Jr

    Baltimore City Paper started “Murder Ink,” a count of every murder, circa 2004. Not quite the same project, but in a city with 200-300 murders a year, Murder Ink illustrates the scale/volume problem inherent in Homicide Watch.

    A person could handle the work load for a couple months or a year in a
    small, not-too-violent city. After that it flies apart with cold cases,
    new cases, new updates.

    And it always will fly apart,
    eventually, unless the volume of murders is reduced logarithmically, which I don’t see happening so long as
    the Earth’s human population keeps increasing.

    Then too, there is more to covering murders than keeping a database. To do it right–as the kind of public service newspapers were made to do–you need to go to court and watch and report when the wrong guy gets convicted. You need to ride herd on the prosecutors and cops and make sure they’re doing their jobs. Keeping a DB with all the victims isn’t a “better way” to do this job, or even another way. It’s just a remarkable and incredibly useful tool one can use to help do the job at hand.