When the gun violence surge caused by the pandemic showed no signs of stopping in 2021, people were hungry for rigorous and accessible stories about the effects of this crisis and the communities working to curb it. The Trace is the only newsroom exclusively devoted to covering gun violence, and our hard-won expertise and trust among our audience positioned us to meet the moment with a multilayered strategy. Our stories addressed technological innovations that made firearms deadlier and harder to regulate; the spike in youth suicide; and the far-reaching effects of Chicago’s gun violence. At the same time, we pursued two projects that directly responded to audience questions and information needs.
In September, we relaunched our “Ask The Trace” explainer series with a call for questions. In response we published such pieces as “Should Suicides Be Considered ‘Gun Violence’?” and “Are Road Rage Shootings Increasing?” Each story was optimized for search to reach new readers. We use Airtable to collect and organize the reader questions, and to keep track of those we’ve responded to — and we re-share the initial callout in the replies and comments on the new pieces.
We became the first to uncover a marked increase in youth suicide. Jennifer Mascia and Olga Pierce analyzed new data, which showed that firearm suicide rates rose steadily among young people in their teens and twenties over the last decade. They found that youth of color experienced the sharpest increases. They also humanized their findings with more traditional reporting, and we developed an extended resource guide we link to on our site and on social media every time we cover this sensitive topic.
With Up the Block, our Philadelphia-focused community engagement project, we’re using journalism to provide a direct service: a hub of information for folks struggling with issues related to gun violence on a neighborhood level. It’s a custom-built site designed by Upstatement that relies on Airtable as its CMS, so it’s easy for our staff to update. It’s also mobile-optimized, quick to load, and easy to navigate in English and Spanish. The project’s Instagram account interacts with more than 1,000 local followers.
Our “Aftershocks” project explored the pervasive effects of Chicago’s gun violence — and the ways in which a government program designed to support survivors fell short. The final result featured an interactive landing page with a data visualization showing the number and locations of shootings across Chicago, survey responses from shooting survivors and victim advocates, and two service journalism guides.
Finally, we’ve included Alain Stephens’s groundbreaking stories that called attention to the rising threat posed by auto sears: small, inexpensive devices that enable semiautomatic weapons to fire automatically. We partnered with VICE News on a video documentary and produced our own web story.
Judges were inspired by the unrelenting rigor, creativity and ambition of The Trace. The team’s sober and expert exploration of gun violence, whether on the ground in Chicago or analyzing nationwide suicide data, has become an essential antidote to this escalating crisis.