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Anna Ditkoff is sitting in her living room with a baby strapped to her chest. A MacBook Air teeters on her lap, as she reaches around her 4-week old son to type. She took 2 weeks off after giving birth before returning to her column, Murder Ink, which details every homicide in Baltimore City.
Ditkoff wrote her first edition of Murder Ink back in 2004, and ever since, at 9 a.m. most weekday mornings, she is often found dialing up the Baltimore City Police. The number is saved in the 'Favorites' section in her phone contacts. When she calls, she doesn't even have to say her last name. "They know who I am," she says, "and I know who they are."
Although the number of homicides in Baltimore has been steadily falling for years. September has been a particularly violent month for Charm City. As of Sept. 27, 2012, the city has seen 166 homicides this year — 20 of them in September.
Ditkoff keeps a spreadsheet for each year with the date, then the name of the victim, date of birth, sex, and last known address. She notes whether it was it a single homicide, a double homicide, or triple. She also keeps track of motives, when they are known, which is almost never.
Ditkoff continues to write the column for one basic reason. "I think it matters," she says. " If you're murdered in Baltimore City, your name should appear in a newspaper."
Washington, D.C. has just half the per capita homicide rate of Baltimore. Back in the early '90s, the District was losing nearly 500 people a year to murder. But today, the homicide rate in the District is falling fast. This year, to date, there have been 68 homicides in the District. Laura Amico, founder and editor of Homicide Watch D.C., tracks them all.
Homicide Watch D.C. goes beyond listing crimes and suspects. Amico and her husband, Chris, have built a platform that shows individual newsfeeds for every victim and every suspect.
If you click on a particular victim's page, you will find up-to-date court records, original reporting, robust comments from the victims' families and friends, and even phone numbers for the detectives assigned to the case.
Amico says detectives frequently tell her they're following Homicide Watch closely, and that they're actually getting calls. Solving cases, she says, it not what she set out to do. "But I conceive of journalism as being a community resource."
Lauren and Chris Amico are currently at Harvard University on the Neiman-Berkman fellowship, and are making plans to launch the Homicide Watch platform in as many as 10 cities by the end of the year.
And even though crime reporting is fascinating work, Amico says, what she really wants is to one day be put out of a job.
[Music: "All Falls Down" by Kanye West from Instrumentals]