Steve Tarzia joins Knight Lab as a professional fellow

Last week Knight Lab welcomed Steve Tarzia as a new professional fellow. During his fellowship, under a program supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Tarzia will work to make a gun violence site he founded more sustainable.

Tarzia, who has a Ph.D. in computer science and has worked on development teams at several Chicago companies, launched in December and will work at Knight Lab for the next three months to test ideas to develop a crowdsourced model to support the site’s ongoing content creation needs.

Steve Tarzia
Tarzia’s deep technical skill set and civic awareness made him a good fit for the professional fellows program, said Joe Germuska, Knight Lab’s director.

“Steve is a great ‘beta-tester’ for our professional fellow program. His considerable technical experience means that he’s able to be quite self-reliant in actually building his project, while the lab can support him with expertise in storytelling, design, and journalism practice.” Germuska said.

The idea for was born in the aftermath of the December, 2015 San Bernardino Attack, in which 14 people were killed and 22 were seriously injured. Media coverage of the attack was enormous, including coverage of the victims, which was striking to Tarzia given that many people die from gun violence each day but don’t have an equal effort made to tell their stories. In looking more closely at gun violence coverage, Tarzia realized that he could find plenty of statistics, but relatively few stories.

“With I’m trying to present the most complete view of who’s killed by guns in the U.S.” Tarzia said. “There are a lot of statistics out there, but what I’m trying to convey is that these aren’t numbers these are human beings.”

Each day, Tarzia finds and publishes about 20 short pieces on gun violence victims that include a brief description of the circumstances surrounding the the death, a photo of the victim, and links to obituaries, news coverage, and fund-raising campaigns. Those 20 people represent a fraction of the roughly 90 daily fatal shooting victims.

Though other sites track law enforcement killings (The Guardian and Washington Post), overall gun deaths (Gun Violence Archive), or homicides in a specific city (Homicide Watch), is unique because it publishes photos, covers the whole nation, includes homicides and accidental shootings, and keeps its content live indefinitely.

Currently Tarzia spends a few hours a day on the site collecting photos and stories of victims, which isn’t sustainable over the long term, he said. He’d like to find a model for tracking the stories behind gun violence that taps the crowd — perhaps in the model of Wikipedia or Stack Overflow.

Since earning his Ph.D. in computer engineering from Northwestern, Tarzia has worked in software development for several Chicago area companies, including Vaporstream, Signal (formerly BrightTag) and FastModel Sports.  He has an undergraduate degree in computer engineering from Columbia University.

Tarzia’s work in the Knight Lab is supported through a scholarship/fellowship program created by Northwestern University and the Knight Foundation. In its first iteration, the program offered scholarships to allow people with computer programming experience to earn a master’s degree at the Medill School of Journalism.  Last year the program was expanded to allow experienced developers to enroll for less than a full year of classes or to receive a three- to six-month Knight Lab fellowship to research, learn or build an application relevant to journalism.

If you are a developer interested in a Knight Lab fellowship, contact us; We’re open to proposals. If you’re interested in journalism classes or a master’s degree under the Knight scholarship program, contact Prof. Rich Gordon.

Tarzia is scheduled to work at the Lab for three months. Keep an eye on this space for updates.

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