2017 The University of Florida Award for Investigative Data Journalism, Small/Medium Newsroom finalist

Shoot to Kill

About the Project

In the series “Shoot to Kill,” Baltimore Sun police reporter Justin George proved that shootings have grown deadlier in at least 10 major U.S. cities including Baltimore, New York and Chicago — but it wasn’t easy. With no dependable, uniform data on gun violence, it’s impossible to accurately even tally the number of shootings occurring in the United States. So George spent more than a year making public information requests to more than 30 of the country’s largest police departments, asking for their statistics on shootings and homicides. He had to learn how these departments tracked and classified all of the shootings that occurred in their jurisdictions, chart and sort comparable statistics and deduce ratios that easily could explain a person’s likelihood of dying or surviving a shooting depending on where they lived.

Shoot to kill: Baltimore is among the most lethal cities in the United States from Baltimore Sun’s The Darkroom on Vimeo.

Aided by four college students as part of the O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism at Marquette University, George was able to wrangle, uncover and contextualize more information about the increasing lethality of shootings than researchers have ever been able to put together. As the series points out: “Criminals are stockpiling higher-caliber guns, many with extended magazines that hold more than 20 bullets. Police and hospitals are seeing a growing number of victims who have been shot in the head or shot repeatedly. And trauma doctors are finding it more difficult to save gunshot victims.”

For the first part in the series, The Sun’s designers and developers carefully reviewed the abundance of data, visuals and reporting that would ultimately become a 7,400-word story — aiming to create an online presentation that made our findings more accessible. The goal: Explain the complex forces behind increasing lethality in a creative and intuitive way through our story presentation, but also use individual elements (interactive graphics, video, audio) to engage and inform users encountering them – on our site or via social media posts teasing the larger story.

The online presentation is topped with a prominent animated graphic that draws users into the piece, highlighting key statistics from The Sun’s data analysis. Interactive graphics and gripping visuals – including photos and video accounts from a convicted murderer, a survivor who was shot 27 time— and grieving mothers of slain children — are embedded throughout. The graphics allow users to truly explore and in some cases personalize the data (e.g., comparing lethality rates of U.S. cities or seeing the most lethal neighborhoods in Baltimore). The online story also includes an audio interview with George, who explains his reporting process and findings.

This elegantly designed presentation — optimized for reading and viewing across phones, tablets and desktop — makes the online experience of this longread stand out in a way that connected with users. It truly amplified and brought to life George’s prodigious reporting – he read dozens of studies and talked to at least 80 people in developing this ambitious project.