July 31, 2014

In 2012, Laura Amico got a call that changed a lot of things — her city, her work and, eventually, her future

Amico, who lived and worked in Washington, D.C., had been selected to be a Nieman-Berkman fellow at Harvard University, where she would research how the Web could be applied to criminal justice journalism. She was eager to go, but she knew moving to Cambridge for a year would mean leaving behind Homicide Watch, a project she and her husband Chris Amico created together to catalog every single homicide in the D.C. area. She didn’t want the site to wither.

“This thing that I’d built from nothing really had a place in the community,” Amico said.

Laura Amico (submitted photo)

Laura Amico (submitted photo)

She and her husband — who eventually made the move to Cambridge permanent — raised more than $47,000 on Kickstarter and were able to hire student journalists to keep the site running in their absence. The Kickstarter money ran out last year, but Homicide Watch is now supported by licensing the site’s template to other news organizations, such as the Chicago Sun-Times. Their project continued.

But earlier this month, Amico got another call that would change the fate of her bootstrapped project. The Boston Globe offered her a job as news editor in charge of multimedia and data projects. She accepted the offer and is now facing the same questions she was two years ago: with her new duties starting Aug. 20, she needs to find somebody who can take over stewardship of Homicide Watch. Her husband will assume her responsibilities for the short term, but ultimately they want to find a permanent home for the site in the D.C. area, where the site’s community is.

“It just doesn’t feel fair for us to be running it from afar in Boston,” Amico said.

She and her husband are currently in conversation with two partners who would each be good hosts for the site, but Amico declined to name them because she didn’t want to jeopardize ongoing negotiations. If they can’t find a host in the coming months, Amico says they’ll consider shutting it down.

“It’s the worst-case scenario because we know it’s something that’s very important to the D.C. community,” she said.

Amico and her husband will retain the rights to license the site’s template to other news organizations.

She isn’t the first media entrepreneur to struggle with relinquishing oversight of a project. In 2008, David Cohn created Spot.Us, a crowdfunding site for journalists. When the site was acquired by American Public Media in 2011, Cohn remembers feeling excitement mixed with anxiety. He wanted the site to grow under new management, but it was difficult to sever ties and watch another organization take control.

Eventually, he came to the realization that he needed to move on and do other things — and he says Amico and her husband should do the same, even if it comes at the expense of Homicide Watch.

“Sometimes that is the best thing for people like Laura who are creatively ambitious and want to do new things,” Cohn said.

Around the time she and her husband started Homicide Watch, Amico says they were counseled to make sure they were prepared to wind their involvement in the site down. Amico didn’t have an exit strategy because the day-to-day operations of the site were fulfilling, she said. But now, as she and her husband get ready to give up control of a project they started, she’s confident that it doesn’t need them anymore. And that makes her proud, she said.

“I know that it can go on without me.”


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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
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