In 2022, the New York Amsterdam News launched Blacklight, the first investigative unit at a legacy Black newspaper. For its first project, the paper wanted to explore an issue that has plagued the city for decades: gun violence.

The resulting project is Beyond the Barrel of the Gun: Reducing Gun Violence in Black and Brown Communities by Empowering Solutions.

“We had not seen the kind of journalism that we needed to see about what was happening,” said Elinor Tatum, publisher and editor-in-chief.

As the name suggested, they wanted to focus not only on the problem of gun violence, but on the success stories of communities that were not featured in mainstream news outlets.

“Gun violence doesn’t stand by itself,” said the paper’s investigative editor, Damaso Reyes, adding that gun violence often overlaps with issues like education, poverty, healthcare, housing, and criminal justice. “If you don’t understand root causes, if you don’t fully understand impact, then you can’t really talk about solutions.”

One of the main projects of the initiative has been in-person convenings, which have helped the outlet serve as a connector among relevant people working on the issue. The first event, held in Harlem, brought together stakeholders, experts, journalists, frontline ‘violence interrupters’ and the school chancellor, and featured a message from U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

“As journalists, we understand that we can serve as a bridge between different members of the community because, as reporters and editors, we’re reaching out to these people for the stories we’re doing,” said Reyes. “They’re not necessarily always talking to each other. So these convenings are an incredibly important part of the work we’re doing to try to build bridges within our community to address the issue of gun violence in Black and brown communities.”

The most visible element of the project is a map documenting incidents of gun violence around New York City over the last 15 years. Reyes says that it’s not only a tool that their reporters can use to uncover stats, but that members of the public can look at to better understand gun violence in their own community.

Beyond the Barrel of a Gun was developed when the Amsterdam News was a participant in the second cohort of the LMA Lab for Journalism Funding, a four-month program that helps news outlets develop and execute strategies for fundraising.

Tatum said the lab was integral to developing the project and seeking out funders. She said the listening tour enabled team members to learn about the kind of coverage their audience sought around gun violence, and the slideshow deck they assembled for pitch meetings gave them a framework for seeking funding in a new way.

Those tools, as well the relationships developed with instructors, coaches and fellow cohort members, have continued to benefit the organization. Tatum said she’s currently applying the lessons learned in the lab to a new project about the environment.

The organization has already found funders for several gun-related initiatives. Columbia University funded a Beyond the Barrel of the Gun project on bail reform. The newspaper also hired a science reporter, with funding from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, who will partly focus on gun violence as a public health issue. And Report for America is providing another journalist — the third for the Amsterdam News — for this specific project.

The Amsterdam News is hoping to raise $1 million over the next three years for Beyond the Barrel of the Gun. The goal is not just to build up this project but to develop the capacity of the outlet overall, which will help the team serve many audiences.

“It’s really important that news organizations of color, especially legacy news organizations of color, be able to do the work themselves rather than depend upon the altruism of other news organizations,” said Reyes. “Those partnerships, as we love to call them, tend to be inequitable.”