Before last year, the Los Angeles Times had typically covered about 10 percent of the homicides in Los Angeles County each year, often the most sensational or shocking. For the last year, the paper’s Web site, latimes.com, recorded every homicide. Reporter Jill Leovy says: “I wanted readers to see all the killings — roughly 1,000 violent deaths each year, mostly of young Latinos and, most disproportionately, of young black men.” Readers responded strongly. “Oh my God,” began one post. “The sheer volume is shocking,” wrote another. “Almost like they’re disposable people,” wrote a third.
Much information about the killings had to be wrung from police agencies across 400 square miles, or from crime scenes or victims’ families. Many agencies were not used to releasing details. One police press official was surprised to learn that victims’ names were public information: No reporter had ever asked him for that, he said. Leovy found “a pocket epidemic of violent death among black and Latino men in neglected corners of society.” Leovy, who has turned the blog over to a colleague, Ruben Vives, says it “has been a humbling experience. None of the more ambitious stories I’d previously done for the paper seemed quite as effective as simply listing victims, one by one by one. She says one reader complained that the project provided no depth, no explanation, of the problem it revealed. Says Leovy: “Maybe, in sum, the report has merely skimmed a problem whose true depths couldn’t be conveyed.”