Interview: Jim MacMillan of GunCrisis.org
GunCrisis.org announced this week it is “curtailing” its operations due to funding shortfall. While the curtailed site will still offer the occasional reports and analysis, the announcement marks the end of an era in which the site tried to document every shooting — and every murder — that occurred in Philadelphia.
Jim MacMillan, a former Daily News photographer, was one of the site’s founders. He talked with Philly Mag about the decision to pull back. Some excerpts:
You were always on a shoestring budget, weren’t you?
Right. We certainly wanted to demonstrate that we could do this at low cost. We were hoping to gather enough revenue to build a sustainable organization. We were hoping to pay everybody’s bills with this work.
When did you conclude that wasn’t going to be the case?
I don’t know what moment was the tipping point. I set aside a year for myself — I left a full-time job at Swarthmore and took a part-time job at Temple and committed all my other time to building this into a sustainable organization. So that would’ve been the second year of the organization, from Spring 2013 to Spring 2014.
By last spring, we had been declined on so many levels. By last spring I had just about run out of options; a new option emerged to let me ride out the summer, but that hasn’t come true so far, either.
But Gun Crisis did accomplish a good bit.
I feel like we hit every mark, every metric, every goal, except for fundraising. I said in the post we can correlate it with a 25 percent drop in gun violence — so can other organizations, of course. I’m not even interest in determining our fair share, except that funders want that. But I know we were there, we were in the conversation, we had the attention of decision-makers, and things got better. I think we made things better. But I want to share my respect for the people out in the field, because that’s where the hard work happens.
The “gun crisis” has been going on in Philadelphia for quite some time. What was it about your organization that got the attention of leaders, perhaps produced some action?
In the beginning this was an exercise in solutions-oriented journalism. My understanding when the City Council first invited us to come in, we were talking about solutions. If you look in the Knowledge Base tab in on the page, you’ll see many solutions reports. So I think the audience came to us because we were talking about solutions.
Is there any worry that by leaving the scene, you might reduce the focus that city leadership has had on the issue?
Yes. I’m extremely worried about that. I often observe flurries of reporting following our reporting — it’s not rock solid, but there are days we get traction and days we can’t. The days we get traction are going to be gone now. So there’ll be less impetus to report on gun violence.
I don’t know if you saw this: This morning I blogged that seven people had been shot in Philadelphia since yesterday’s announcement. When I checked in this morning, the last four had gone totally unreported in local media. There isn’t too much reporting going on. I’d say the average newsroom misses or skips or doesn’t report 25 percent of the shooting victims.
Journalism is still trying to find its way in the digital age. I wonder if you’ve inadvertently stumbled onto one kind of model, that’s very focused and also a short-term project. Instead of newspapers we have sites that pop up and focus on a topic very intently for two or three years. Do you see that as a possible model for the future? I know what’s not what you were aiming for.
That’s an interesting question. Pop-up news sites serve a purpose, but if that’s what we were it was totally inadvertent. Gun violence was a problem in Philadelphia long before us; while it’s receded by a historic 25 percent while we were here, that’s the beginning of the work that needs to be done. If that’s what we look like, that wasn’t my intention. My intention was to build it and sustain it, and shut it down when the lack of gun violence obsoleted the need for the reporting.
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