Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

Columns

January 13, 2013

HOPKINS: Paper was wrong to publish pistol permits

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Every day journalists have a responsibility to report the news. It’s not something that is taken lightly.

Many stories are easy to put together, but sometimes there’s a lot of background work required — especially for in-depth reports — before the final product is produced. It’s a big responsibility.

But sometimes you have to be just plain responsible.

On Dec. 23, a newspaper serving the northern suburbs of New York City published an article about residents who hold pistol permits. Along with the story was an interactive map on the newspaper’s website that showed the names and addresses of every person in Westchester and Rockland counties who possess pistol permits.

Presumably, the newspaper published the permit holders as a matter of public service. I say “presumably,” because it’s also very possible that the paper published the names and addresses as a pure publicity stunt. One thing is for sure: What the White Plains-based Journal News did was irresponsible.

Except among colleagues and close friends, I generally keep my criticisms of news organizations to myself. Not this time.

Before I go farther, I want to make it clear that I support the rights of a free press under the First Amendment and I fully support freedom of information laws that make public records available to everyone. However, there is also a tremendous responsibility that comes along with using the rights granted by the First Amendment and the law

There are several reasons why I wouldn’t have — and the Journal News SHOULDN’T have — publicized the permit holders.

First and foremost, I believe the publication could put the lives of citizens in danger. The data posted includes names and addresses of active and retired police officers, judges, battered and stalked individuals, FBI agents and others. These are people who don’t want criminals they’ve sent to jail or from who they’re hiding to knpw where they live. People are supposed to feel safe in their own homes. Many in Westchester and Rockland counties had that comfort taken away from them by the Journal News.

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