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WMAZ journalist's experience as crime victim drives him to make changes in coverage

Justin Baxley came up with a victim's guide and a roadmap for journalists

MACON, Ga. — It's something you hope you never hear; a loved one has been murdered.

Justin Baxley, our Digital Content Manager at 13WMAZ, went through the horrifying experience when someone shot and killed his father.

It inspired him to develop this new approach to reporting on victims of tragedies.

"He used to tell me about him and my Mom coming here," Justin said, sitting in a restaurant booth.

Michael Baxley took the next generation, his son Justin to the Fish Port Two pretty frequently throughout his life.

"The best sauce in the world, and he was right," Justin said.

Justin says his Dad would have done anything for him and anybody else.

Someone shot Michael Baxley in the fall of 2017, leaving him to die.

Investigators say they think robbery was the motive.

Crime scene tape went up, the coroner gave us a sound bite, and journalists blew up Justin's phone.

"Within two hours of me finding out, I received five phone calls asking me for an interview, and I would say I'm not ready yet, and they'd call back in an hour and say, are you ready now," he recalled.

Lights, microphones, trauma, how can anyone be ready?

"Overwhelmed and a lack of empathy and a lack of compassion for what I'd gone through, and it was like I had to be beholden to their 24-hour news cycle," Justin said.

Justin didn't talk to us.

He didn't talk to anyone. He says he shut down, and when you think this story can't get much worse for him or other crime victims, it does.

Investigators called the scene off Pharr Avenue gruesome.

And nobody came in to wash away all of that blood.

"So me and my cousin and the investigator, we cleaned it ourselves," Justin said.

As journalists, we added to Justin's grief, and the truth is it happens every day. But Justin turned that big ball of darkness, grief, and pain into something incredible.

Justin received a fellowship from Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank.

He laid out a better way for us to do business.

"We will send out a resource guide to let these families know what options are available to them at the local, state, and national level," he described.

Justin presented his road map to us, law enforcement and community leaders.

Sergeant Coleman Lewis is still working on his Dad's case and calls all of this providence.

"He has come up with a program to create a sense of humanity," he said solemnly.

Justin can't sit and have a sandwich with his Dad anymore, but Michael Baxley's spirit lives inside his son, that same generous personality, and we think he'd be pretty proud.

Justin wishes he had talked to the media after his father's murder.
He believes someone with information might have come forward if he had shared his father's story in the days after his death.


More Than A Number is a Poynter-Stand Together award-winning project by Justin Baxley designed to help families of loved ones impacted by tragedy and trauma interact with journalists in a less intrusive way.

More Than A Number will officially launch in August with a streaming special available on 13WMAZ+ for on-demand streaming. For any questions or concerns about More Than A Number, contact us here at the following email.

RELATED: More Than A Number: Family Form

RELATED: More Than A Number: Victim's Resource Guide

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RELATED: More Than a Number: 2022 Central Georgia Homicide Memorial Page

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