The Trace, America’s only newsroom that exclusively covers gun violence, has launched a Local Reporting Initiative and unveiled a dedicated home for coverage of gun violence in Chicago and Philadelphia.
We began planning this expansion of our coverage because we recognized that the experience of gun violence varies from place to place. We wanted our approach to be community driven, to reflect the many facets of the crisis; it was also important to make our newsgathering more democratic. We knew we wanted to engage gun violence survivors and to take a trauma-informed approach, because serving those most affected by the crisis is at the heart of The Trace’s mission.
We are beginning this work in Chicago and Philadelphia, cities where gun violence has been chronic — and often misrepresented — and officials have faced little accountability. In each city, our impact strategy pairs enterprise reporters with full-time community engagement reporters to deliver in-depth, change-making journalism guided by community needs. As in our national coverage, The Trace eagerly collaborates with local partners interested in co-publishing our stories and combining strengths with our team.
Key to launching our Chicago and Philadelphia bureaus was finding great local journalists to staff them. If you’re reading a Trace local story, you can be certain that it was written by someone who is from or who has long lived in the place that it’s about. In Philly, long-time Philadelphia Inquirer staffer and Pulitzer Prize finalist Mensah M. Dean is working as staff writer alongside engagement reporter Afea Tucker, a veteran freelance journalist and marketing pro with extensive community ties. In Chicago, Justin Agrelo came to us from City Bureau to work as our engagement reporter, and Rita Oceguera recently joined the team as our beat reporter.
“Our reporting, both at the local and national level, seeks to do what other newsrooms often don’t have the time to do,” says senior editor Joy Resmovits, who spearheaded the development of The Trace’s local initiative. “We spend time looking for the deeper stories that can be missed when gun violence coverage is limited to breaking news.”
Shooting survivors we’ve spoken with have said the news cameras that appear on their worst days and disappear in a flash are harmful. We are committed to finding a better way. Especially on a subject so often mischaracterized and misunderstood, we knew we needed to commit resources to deep listening. Agrelo and Tucker spent their first months on the job doing just that. They asked the people most affected by gun violence how the media can better serve their needs. What they want people to know about their neighborhoods. What they think needs to change.
These considerations inspired our award-winning Up the Block resource guide; Tucker is now working to make it a more familiar resource among residents looking for help dealing with the gun violence in their neighborhoods. Based on the input he collected in Chicago, Agrelo is launching a survivor storytelling initiative as a way to bridge the trust gap between journalists and the people most affected by gun violence.
Community feedback and questions that our engagement journalists collect will also inform Dean and Oceguera as they produce the kind of intensive watchdog, investigative, and solutions reporting The Trace has published since 2015. Dean recently spent time in the four Philly precincts that are getting more police in response to violence; his reporting painted a unique and nuanced portrait of what life looks like in the redeployment zone. Oceguera has explored the fine print in Illinois’s new gun law, and recently broke down the plans mayoral hopefuls have presented to curb gun violence in Chicago. “In Chicago and Philly, we are already hearing things from our engagement reporters — who are force multipliers for our ability to learn new things — that we might have otherwise missed,” Resmovits said.
In designing The Trace’s local initiative, we were inspired by peers who have taken this approach before us: vaccine appointment volunteers at Epicenter in New York; community listening by El Timpano in Oakland; and community integration from KPCC, to name a few.
While we build out our on-the-ground coverage in Chicago and Philadelphia, The Trace is also testing ways to partner more intentionally with local outlets in other cities, lending our issue expertise to deepen coverage across the country.
As we apply lessons learned from our local coverage to improve our work, The Trace will also look for opportunities to expand to other cities in coming years. We want to hear from you: Do you think your area could benefit from The Trace’s approach to reporting on gun violence and public safety? Let us know.