Professor wins Eppy award for mass murder database

The oldest and most comprehensive data source on the massacres, run by North East professor James Alan Fox, has won two EPPY Awards.

The Associated Press/USA TODAY/Northeastern University Mass Killing Database won “Best Community Service Project/Report” and was a finalist for “Best Use of Data/Infographics.”

James Alan Fox, Lipman family professor of criminology, law, and public policy at Northeastern. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

The database has only been publicly available since August, which adds to the distinction. The EPPYs, awarded by Editor & Publisher, recognize publishers of digital news in more than 30 categories.

Fox’s database refers to all mass murders in the United States in which four or more people (excluding the offender) were killed within a 24-hour window, regardless of weapon, location, motivation, or victim-offender relationship.

There have been 35 mass shootings so far this year, a number Fox describes as unprecedented. Overall, since the beginning of the year, the United States has suffered 39 massacres involving firearms or other weapons.

“I put a lot of time and effort into this project,” says Fox, who has studied the massacres for more than 40 years. “Almost every day I work there, trying to provide details of cases, even cases dating back years. So I was quite surprised but incredibly happy that it was recognized.

Fox’s database is cited as a normative collaboration between news-gathering agencies.

“This is a powerful project that demonstrates in a very tangible and visually accessible way the epidemic of gun violence in America,” writes an EPPY judge.

Another judge added, “This is the kind of news gathering project that should be required reading in our high schools and colleges. And he should be held up as an example to all journalism and mass communication students across the country, because [an] example of how the media can shape the country.

Fox’s database offers a different perspective than other gun-related sites, including Gun Violence Archive, which includes shootings with four or more victims, most of whom survived their injuries. About 5% of mass shootings in the gun violence records are mass murders.

The database allows users to compare massacres year by year. This shows that just over 20% of killings do not involve firearms, Fox says.

“There’s a lot of misinformation about patterns and trends in killings, and one of the ways to deal with the rampant panic and fears is with our data,” says Fox, a professor of criminology, law and science. public policy of the Lipman family at Northeastern. “This database is quite comprehensive in terms of the amount of information on each case, dating back to 2006.”

The database was launched in 2012 by USA TODAY, which in 2017 found itself unable to maintain the project. Soon after, Fox began entering information into the database, while its administration was shared by USA TODAY and The Associated Press.

Fox oversees the database and adds information from media reports, FBI data, arrest records, medical examiner reports, prison records, and other court documents.

The website features simple graphics and an intuitive structure that allows visitors to quickly access and enter information. Publication has been repeatedly delayed as its developers at USA TODAY worked to create a site “that would last and be ported into the future,” says Shawn J. Sullivan, an editor who leads visual projects at USA TODAY.

“We wanted to create something that doesn’t just send you a massive amount of data, but actually tells you a cohesive story,” Sullivan says. “That’s why we chose a visual story format, so that it would be familiar to readers and they would know it was always up to date and provided the most up-to-date information.”

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