Igniting much controversy, the White Plains Journal News, a daily newspaper in White Plains, N.Y., published a list and map detailing which local residents had gun permits and giving out their addresses. The White Plains Journal News, which according to Mondo Times has a circulation of about 73,000 copies, included a map of the “pistol permits registered” in various counties.
Its coverage area includes “the Lower Hudson Valley – New York’s Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties.”
The Poynter Institute’s Al Tompkins called it “journalistic arrogance to abuse public record privilege,” according to a statement published by CNN,
While the newspaper said, according to ABC News, that it got all of its data from “routine Freedom of Information law requests” and that it published the report in the wake of the Connecticut school shootings, the News’ report was said to have opened those permit holders up to invasion of privacy and harassment.
“Hundreds of callers have complained, claiming publication of the database put their safety at risk or violated their privacy. Others claimed publication was illegal. Many of the callers were vitriolic and some threatened members of the newspaper staff.”
But, the paper quoted its “editor and vice president/news” CynDee Royle defending the report because,
“We felt sharing as much information as we could about gun ownership in our area was important in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings.”
In response, blogger Christopher Fountain did the same thing to the newspaper’s employees, Mediaite noted. Fountain told CNN the News “could have just published the number of gun permits” instead of the names of the owners, and added:
“In the aftermath of Newtown, it was obviously one tragedy, but somehow they were conflating legal gun owners with some crazed tormented devil up in Newtown and putting the two together. And I was offended by that and I wondered how they would like it if their addresses were published.”
After his initial post containing the contact information, Fountain blogged multiple times about the News and the reaction to his own post, including noting that the News “deleted [his] response” in the comments section of a Journal News article.
Fountain added that a “retired NYC detective whose name and address were among those released” by the newspaper told him he has been “receiving death threats to himself and his family” and pointed to the Journal News‘ “editor’s note” saying that the article’s reporter Dwight R. Worley has a gun and a permit. iMediaEthics has asked Fountain if he verified the detective’s claims of death threats and will update with any response.
In a Dec. 26 post, Fountain noted that his “blog is supposed to be a mixture of whatever interests me and a running report on what’s happening in the Greenwich real estate market.”
iMediaEthics reached out to the News asking
- for confirmation it deleted a comment of Fountain’s, and why
- what went into the decision to publish the database
- what response it had to Fountain’s publishing its staff’s contact information
- if the News would publish the database again given the response it has seen
- what measures the News took to protect any victims in the database, given Fountain’s claim that “abused women who were under protective order and in hiding” were named
- if the News has any response to Fountain’s report that one of the people named in the database has gotten “death threats”
The News‘ editor Royle told iMediaEthics by email that the News doesn’t have “any comment beyond the statements in our own story” which read:
“‘We knew publication of the database would be controversial, but we felt sharing as much information as we could about gun ownership in our area was important in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings,’ said CynDee Royle, editor and vice president/news.
“’People are concerned about who owns guns and how many of them there are in their neighborhoods,’ she said. ‘Our Freedom of Information request also sought specifics on how many and what types of weapons people owned. That portion of the request was denied.'”
iMediaEthics has asked Fountain what reaction the Journal News had to his blog posts and will update with any response.
iMediaEthics wrote earlier this month about Columbia Journalism Review’s similarly included identifying details for a private person without the knowledge or consent or the person. In that case, CJR included the person’s — source Marcy — married name and house street number. Check out that Special Investigation: “CJR Reporter Lying, Exploiting a Source? What’s happening at Columbia Journalism Review?”