Sean Connelley and Katy Newton, two of the journalists behind the Oakland Tribune’s Not Just A Number package I wrote about yesterday, were kind enough to take a few minutes of their time today to answer a few questions by e-mail.
I wanted to know what it was like to build something on this scale, over months, with the goal of telling the stories behind Oakland’s homicide statistics. Katy (KN) answered most of the questions, with Sean (SC) chiming in on one point.
II: How long did all this take to develop?
KN: We started kicking the idea around in July. Sean would come home and say the homicides are at 54, 67, 83 etc… We found ourselves counting down the homicides and forgetting that we were talking about human lives. That’s really how the project began.
We wanted to discover who was dying. To humanize the problem. It took a lot of effort to contact the families. Just gaining the trust of the community took three months. People felt a bit betrayed by the media.
Often when homicides are reported, the main source for describing who the victim is comes from police records. This was most upsetting for the families, as well as the issue of police mug shots being used in the old homicide maps.
When the families heard that the Tribune was making the effort to change their policy on the police mug shots, doors opened up.
We really have to thank Marilyn Washington Harris from the Khadafy Foundation for her help.
Kathleen [Kirkwood, Associate Editor for Online News in Oakland] put us in touch with her. She lost her son Khadafy in 2004. Now she spends her time helping the families through the grieving process. She does it all on her own. She is amazing.
Anyway, we called her in September and she agreed to meet us at a local funeral home — her unofficial office. We asked her if we did this project what did she think it should include. That’s when she broke it down for us — about the police mugs, and the one-sided reporting.
She didn’t help us right away.
She told us later she would give us a couple families then ask the families how we were. She also waited to see how committed we were. It was good that she didn’t help us right away because it forced us to go out into the community more. We met with a lot of people always asking what would they like to see be included in the project or how could we report on violence better.
Continue reading “Building a multimedia package from the ground up in Oakland”