The Guardian has launched a new project documenting knife crime in the UK, aiming to provide data and report on the lives of teenage victims as well as the larger themes emerging from these incidents.
'Beyond the blade: The truth about knife crime in Britain', was launched on 28 March. Throughout 2017, it will mark the deaths of children and teenagers who have been stabbed. It aims to help build a publicly available national database and provide a more comprehensive overview of an issue that is sometimes sensationalised or inconsistently covered.
Gary Younge, lead journalist on the project and author of a book called 'Another Day in the Death of America', which chronicles the lives of 10 American children and teenagers who died after being shot in the US over 24 hours, came up with the idea for the series while he was doing research for his book. After returning to the UK in 2015, he started looking into how many young people in the country died after being stabbed.
"When we started, I called the Home Office to find out the kind of numbers we were talking about. They said that they didn't know, that they didn't keep those numbers and that I would have to call each individual police force," Younge told Journalism.co.uk.
"It turns out they do keep those numbers but they won't share them, so for this year we will assemble those facts in one place and make them publicly available."
Younge will work alongside Guardian reporter Damien Gayle, as well as data journalists and people on the organisation's graphics, visuals and membership teams to cover the issue, looking at the knife crimes that have been so far reported in the media and issuing FOIA requests to the Home Office and regional police forces. Where information is available, a profile of each person with details about their life will also be compiled.
"As time goes on, we are looking forward to more data. To some extent, the project will be data-driven because the data has been so hard to access, but also people-driven, by the stories of the people we meet."
The project is also asking readers to contribute, whether by raising awareness of teenage knife crime in their community, or by sharing insights about local organisations and individuals doing work related to this issue.
"We're a quarter of a way through the year and as far as I'm aware, we have not missed any deaths yet but it's possible that we will, so we are asking readers to contribute to help make sure we don't.
"There are people doing good things all over the country and it would be useful to hear from them and for them to speak to each other, and we can provide that space. There is more wisdom about this issue out there than we [Younge and Gayle] can provide through a year of reporting."
Alongside profiles and data, the project will also include feature articles and potentially multimedia pieces on related issues, such as speaking to undertakers and surgeons, as well as analysis on themes that emerge from the incidents.
"It's becoming clear already, for example, that it has had an impact on what young people can do and what is available to them, such as youth services, or access to child and adolescent mental health services," he added.
The project shares some similarities with the Guardian's database launched in 2015 to track deaths caused by law enforcement in the United States, The Counted, such as highlighting the lack of publicly available data and the fact that some people's stories "haven't been told at all in the national press, or some have not been told right".
"When it came to why we were doing this, there was a feeling that in Britain we talk about knife crime a lot, it comes up as an issue to be worried and scared about. And yet it's stunning how little we know about it and how rarely we go under the surface, and if we do, it's in a very sensationalist kind of way.
"The idea was to pursue it and talk about it properly, giving it space and some of the resources needed, if only for a year," Younge said.