How readers contributed to our ‘gun number’ story

We told you last week about a Washington Post magazine article, centered on one question: What’s your gun number? Joe Heim, an editor for the magazine, posed that question to Washington area residents to find out how their lives had been affected by gun violence.

James Worthey, 68, responded to our
James Worthey, 68, responded to our call-out with a personal story and his own gun number: one.

The magazine published photos and stories of nine people with friends and family members who had been shot, or who had been shot themselves.

Along with our report, we asked readers to share their own photos and stories. We received hundreds of responses and have published a selection here with permission from the respondents.

Ryan Kellett, deputy editor for The Post’s audience engagement team, and social media reporter Caitlin Dewey produced the query using the Public Insight Network (PIN).

PIN cultivates a large network of individuals who are interested in working as sources for journalists in different newsrooms around the country.

Dewey wrote the query and reviewed all of the responses.

“I was really struck by how personal they were,” Dewey said. “There’s something really powerful about hearing that type of story in a first person format.”

Take, for example, the response from James Worthey of Gaithersburg. Worthey (pictured above) wrote that he’d saved clippings from Post articles about the death of Steven Hong-Luk King, a restaurant owner who was killed in a 1992 robbery committed by King’s own son and an accomplice.

In addition to standard demographic information, the query asked readers how many people they know who have been killed or injured by gun violence. Respondents were also asked to explain what happened to each person and how their own life changed as a result.”I learned not to take friends or acquaintances for granted,” Worthey wrote.

The query also included two questions on gun policy — significant because respondents “used their personal experiences to reflect upon a larger issue,” Kellett said.

Last week, Heim told Ask The Post that the goal of his story was “to take it out of the political debate and put the focus back on the lives of people who had been affected by gun violence.”

Dewey said she kept that focus in mind while writing the query, but made a point to ask readers about gun policy because their personal experiences gave them “a unique perspective.”

That perspective is arguably what made the query relevant to the story — and to readers. “It gave the story more depth,” Dewey said. “It makes it more of a conversation.”

Bethonie Butler is a producer and a reporter on The Post’s engagement team. She oversees online comments and has also contributed to The Style Blog and She The People.
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Bethonie Butler · March 8, 2013