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Students create in-depth website for campus crime coverage

The wave of Crime-Alerts issued last semester has given rise to a resurgence of safety tip talking points reminiscent of middle school: “don’t walk alone,” “stay in well-lit areas” and “no headphones.”

Yet one group of students has overhauled standard crime awareness debates with the launch of Campuscrime.net, a unique online resource for University crime awareness and prevention.

Completed with contributions from 41 students in the Journalism 199 and 425 courses, the website has reached nearly 2,900 unique visitors as of 6 a.m. Monday, with an average user attention span of six minutes and 18 seconds. The New York Times website claims only four minutes.

Eric Meyer, associate professor in Media, said he believed the “phenomenally high” retention rate is due to the alternative site format of non-linear storytelling.

“You can look at the individual schemes of things and see for yourself and sort of arrive at your own conclusion,” Meyer said. “We do know a lot of people are interested in hearing the individual stories of the people involved and the police commenting on them, more so than they’re interested in text stories.”

Instead of the blocks of text seen on most news sites, Campuscrime.net displays a broad range of interactive data and media that includes filterable crime maps, sound bites from victims and their parents, photos of where the latest crime alerts took place and at the time they happened, and a quiz on how students can legally defend themselves.

Deputy Chief of University Police Jeffrey Christensen said he hopes they keep the site online and updated. In response to one quiz answer he said, “I would agree that common sense is the best self defense.”

Meyer also pointed out his classes conducted a survey on where students thought was the most dangerous part of campus.

“The students’ responses to the survey matched the crime data,” Meyer said. “It was really the northwest Campustown area and not the dorm areas.”

The project began when he asked his freshman discovery course JOUR 199 (Flash Journalism Online) what they would include in a site about what every incoming freshman needed to know, and Meyer received the response: “What I needed to know was that you need to bring mace and a taser with you!”

“It was very obvious there was a disconnect here,” Meyer said. “The people that had been on campus for a while had one view of it, and people who hadn’t been on campus for very long had a completely different view of it.”

Kate Szyszka and Emily Carlson, the initial producers of the site and former Illini Media employees, acknowledged that managing the other 40 contributors was chaotic but felt the final product was “more efficient than having to dig deep into a story,” Szyszka said.

Despite the massive amounts of data that comes with an entire semester of Crime Alerts and police reports, Szyszka felt that the University Police Department is still “abiding above and beyond the requirements of the Clery Act,” a federal law requiring University Police to make known the specifics of certain crimes that happen on campus.

“Truth is rarely black and white,” Meyer said.

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