Thursday, December 27, 2012

Journal-News Takes Unwarranted Flak over Gun Map

Wheezing Gannett Paper Shows Signs of Life Fulfilling Its Journalistic Mission

You know it's a slow week when a newspaper becomes news. And you know it's a really slow week when that newspaper is The Journal-News, the underachieving (to put it charitably) Gannett property serving New York's northern suburbs (and a former employer of mine from way back when).
The J-N fell into the media's crosshairs this week following publication of an intriguing map that showed readers the names and addresses of registered gun owners in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties.
All in all, a pretty cool idea for a paper that's usually devoid of inspiration. Not surprisingly, lots of folks are in a tizzy over this information, and not just the nattering nabobs of negativism at the NRA.
While waiting for my car to be fixed this morning, the TV in the waiting room was turned to Fox & Friends, where substitute co-host Clayton Moore, who will never be mistaken for a rocket scientist, just shook his head and said it's "wrong" what the paper did. His compadres on the couch, Kelly Wright and Juliet Huddy were also doing their "tsks, tsks" and expressing as much outrage as they could muster without a second cup of coffee.
That's been typical of much of the coverage I've seen, which includes useless person-on-the-street interviews that make no mention of the First Amendment or public record laws.
The value of this information is certainly arguable. At best, the map is an interesting sidebar to Newtown. But the fact that some of your friends and neighbors are legally exercising their Second Amendment rights as currently interpreted by the courts is not terribly newsworthy in an of itself.
And the Journal-News could have handled the contretemps a little better. I'm not sure what was the point of the note attached to the article accompanying the map, which mentioned that reporter Dwight Worley, who wrote the piece, "owns a Smith & Wesson 686 .357 Magnum and has had a residence permit in New York City for that weapon since February 2011."
Bully for Dwight. But so what? Does that make him any more qualified to report the story? Nah. Go back into the J-N archives and take a look at the gun control stories I wrote. In 1988. And the last gun I fired was at the riflery range in summer camp.
Also, why is the paper not being more forceful in responding to the reaction to the pece? It has, alternately, either not commented or issued mealy-mouthed canned statements, like this one from publisher Janet Hasson:
“We knew publication of the database (as well as the accompanying article providing context) would be controversial. But we felt sharing information about gun permits in our area was important in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings.”

That's the best you can do, Janet? Given that she's never worked as a reporter., maybe it is.

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