RJI Fellow says better reporting can help fight against gun violence

Fellowship project will include development of best practices guidebook with feedback from journalists, family of gun violence victims

The Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute awarded seven fellowships for the 2019-20 academic year with projects to improve gun violence reporting, expand solutions-based journalism by local TV stations, help large and small newsrooms get the most out of push notifications, customize audio documentaries through voice commands, measure the community impact of online stories and preserve digital content that’s being lost.

With mass shootings regularly in the news, questions loom about how to prevent these types of gun-related tragedies.

Journalists can play a role with good, solutions-based reporting, says Jim MacMillan, multimedia journalist and educator. He plans to help journalists by producing a comprehensive guidebook and develop a sustainable program to help journalists cover gun violence, as a 2019-20 RJI Fellow at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute. This program will include the creation of a digital community where journalists and others interested in fighting gun violence can gather and work together.

“Reporting on known, evidence-based solutions can empower individuals, organizations and communities to understand the root causes of violence and to discover and implement resources that could save lives, lessen suffering and reduce the economic cost of violence,” he says.

MacMillan is no stranger to gun violence as a 25-year resident of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a city known for its high rate of gun violence. In 2018, of the approximate 1,502 gun related incidents, about 306 people were killed and 1,196 people were injured, according to City of Philadelphia open data.

In his almost two-decade career as a photographer for the Philadelphia Daily News, MacMillan reported on almost 2,000 gun violence incidents, he says.

His project will involve bringing together reporters, trauma specialists, and the families of shooting victims and others, to help.

The fellowship will include holding events, such as an invitation-based, “speed-dating” event hosted by MacMillan’s new organization, The Initiative for Better Gun Violence Reporting, on September 7 at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia residents and journalists will talk about how better coverage could serve the community. A Targeted Community Investment Grant from the City of Philadelphia Office of Violence Prevention is supporting the event. Any journalists involved with covering gun violence in Philadelphia are encouraged to reach out to MacMillan.

MacMillan is organizing the event, along with three other Philadelphia-based organizations: Mothers in Charge, Resolve Philadelphia and the Coalition of Trauma Centers for Firearm Injury Prevention.

The fellowship will also include The Better Gun Violence Reporting Summit on Nov. 8 at WHYY, a public radio station, in Philadelphia. The gathering, also hosted by MacMillan’s organization and is open to the public, is intended to bring together journalists and other stakeholders interested in advancing and planning the implementation of a set of best practices for covering gun violence, he says. Conference takeaways will be incorporated into the fellowship guide.

MacMillan’s past work in the area

Producing a guidebook and program is just one step MacMillan has taken to fight against gun violence and he’s seen the impact of good reporting on gun violence, he says.

He launched the award-winning Gun Crisis Reporting Project in 2012. The project covered every gun incident in the city of Philadelphia for more than two years. In addition to winning awards, the city saw a 25 percent drop in homicides in 2013, he says. He believes their work made a difference. Unfortunately, reporting was discontinued in 2014 due to a lack of funding.

He has also trained and equipped journalists and future journalists on gun violence reporting.                                                                                        

This has involved talking at journalism conferences, the Philadelphia City Council and others about gun violence and possible solutions. He has also taught trauma journalism and solutions journalism at Temple University. He taught peace journalism at Swarthmore College.

In addition, he helped with the launch and management of other news startups including The Reentry Project and Broke in Philly, which emphasize solutions journalism.

For more information about MacMillan’s fellowship and gun violence efforts, and to join the conversation, check out MacMillan’s website at www.ibgvr.org.

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