Laura Amico, who turns 32 Saturday, is a University of California (Santa Cruz) anthropology graduate who, after stints as a small-town education reporter and in the Peace Corps, settled in Washington to use the Internet to give voice to victims of violence. Via reporting, online databases, and community involvement, Homicide Watch DC gained acclaim. It's stated mission is, "Mark every death; remember every victim; follow every case."
After a Harvard fellowship in journalism innovation, Amico and her web-developer husband Chris are extending their concept of data-rich accountability journalism to education in the Boston area. Allied with WBUR, the region's main National Public Radio station, Learning Lab soft-launched last month and produced its first story this week.
This interview, conducted by Jody Brannon, has been edited for length and clarity.
It's not so much a switch as an expansion, because we are running Homicide Watch DC and the other Homicide Watch sites [so far in Trenton, N.J.; Chicago; and Colorado]. When I finished the Neiman Berkman Fellowship, WBUR asked me what I'd like to work on next. That was really fantastic because as we left D.C. we were uncertain of what came next. To be frank and honest, I hadn't had an editor say in a long time, "What do you want to work on?" So I casually throw out there, "[Covering] homicide is great, but a lot of people have asked about this [model] and education." I had said it casually in the conversation, except we didn't move on. It turned out that education was something WBUR was building competency in, and so they asked Chris and I to put together a quick pitch because they were applying for a Knight Community [Information Challenge] grant. That was due in three days. So over the weekend we put our heads together and I spoke with a lot of people, [asking them] how do you cover education in a meaningful way and how do you do it in a way that draws from the strengthens in Homicide Watch and the principles of narrative data and using that to tell better stories. The assumption is that the pivot point, instead of being each crime, would be each school.