Not so long ago, violence was ubiquitous in the media. For the IndyStar newsroom, it remains a problem that needs a solution.
Last year, Ryan Martin, public safety reporter, and James Briggs, city hall reporter, pitched the idea to the newsroom to launch The Toll, a year-long reporting project that would help explore and fight violence in their city.
According to the paper, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department has opened more than 600 investigations into criminal homicides over the past four years. It was enough for editor Alvie Lindsay to say it was time for action.
The Toll will peel back the layers of violence and share untold stories in the area. A weekly newsletter can be found at indystar.com/thetoll.
Martin said, for example, “(In February), we published a story about a crumbling condominium complex where violence is commonplace and unchecked, in part, because of a lingering lawsuit between a small homeowners association and the city over property right.”
These are the types of stories not normally found by looking through police reports, he said. Instead, the project calls for reporters to spend more time with multiple groups of people in the community.
The newsletter also keeps local residents informed of criminal homicides, developments relating to public safety, and events in the community aimed at helping neighborhoods to prevent crime.
The project kicked off in January with a great response, Martin said. “Readers, advocates, crime victims, judges, police officers, prosecutors and attorneys have been reaching out with suggestions and ideas. We obviously can’t do our jobs without a community who is as committed as we are—and our community definitely cares.”
Despite their added responsibilities of the newsletter and with spending more time in the community, Martin said he and Briggs are handling the extra weight. “We’ve had tremendous support from our top editors—Ronnie Ramos, Ginger Rough and Alvie Lindsay—as well as tons of help from several digital and visual journalists. It’s a newsroom effort.”
In addition, Martin said the team needs “be smart about how we spend our time so we can focus on what matters. But that’s the story of every newspaper journalist regardless of whether you’re on a special project.”
But Martin emphasized that this type of journalism is important. “For public safety reporters, it can be easy to drown among a sea of stories every day that don’t say much or help many people. Indianapolis deserves better, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”