The right of a free press … the watchdog of the people … is one of our fundamentally most important rights.
Unfortunately, I agree with those that our press has been largely corrupted by business and politics. In some ways, this is nothing new. Yellow journalism is well over a century old. The problem, from my perspective, is that you would think things would change in a century. They largely haven’t.
A few days ago, as a part of the larger debate over gun ownership, gun violence, and such, the Journal-News of Westchester County, New York obtained the names of the gun owners in the county, and published their names along with an interactive map.
The records were legally obtained, and are a matter of the public record (kind of like the salaries of public employees). The outcry was instant, obvious, and largely justified.
If the point was “there are a lot of gun owners in Westchester County”, the newspaper could have published facts and figures. While it is questionable as to whether this violated a the by Hoyle definition of “privacy”, given that the information could be legally obtained, the mass publication was seen as a broadside; a direct attack on gun owners and gun ownership. The blogger pointed out in an interview that one particular group he was concerned with were victims of domestic abuse who had licenses to own guns for self-defense … and now have their names and addresses published, perhaps making their names and locations public to people they were hiding from.
The other shoe dropped yesterday. A blogger obtained the names of the staff of the Journal-News, and has published their names and home addresses on a blog.
This is an example, IMO, of bad journalism. It was not so much journalism as it was a publicity stunt to sell papers or garner advertising for the paper’s website. Maybe one of the reporters or editors thought it would be an excellent way to spark a conversation. Unfortunately, the response was not conversation, it was retaliation.
I highly doubt that this will lead to physical violence, however I have no doubt that the staff are going to be subject to some harassment. I don’t endorse that. But I am concerned that in a nation that really needs more actual dialogue, we see an example of a lost opportunity to engage in conversation rather than some kind of stunt to appease one side of the political spectrum.