Friday, January 18, 2013

Urgent: Facing storm of criticism, Westchester paper removes gun permit database from Web

In a letter to readers late this afternoon, Journal News Publisher Janet Hasson disclosed the daily has removed from its website a database of handgun permit holder names and addresses in two New York counties after weeks of scorching pushback from gun rights advocates.

Hasson said the decision wasn't a concession to critics or to those who had threatened harm to her and other Journal News employees -- threats that spurred her to post armed guards at the office of the suburban New York City paper and at her own home.

"But the database has been public for 27 days and we believe those who wanted to view it have done so already," she wrote. "As well, with the passage of time, the data will become outdated and inaccurate."

Hasson's reasoning simply doesn't hold water, however, and suggests instead that she's trying to appease critics. After all, virtually every news story eventually grows outdated, and most readers absorb information within the first 24-hour news cycle. Yet, newspapers rarely remove stories online; they simply move into digital archives.

Critics no doubt will claim victory, including especially a New York gun-rights group asking consumers to boycott businesses advertising in the Journal News and other Gannett media until the paper removed the database.

Indeed, in The Huffington Post, one of the paper's most high-profile opponents, N.Y. state Sen. Greg Ball, is quoted saying: "Thank God the Journal News has finally realized the error in their judgment and done the right thing."

Ball had promised to seek legislation that would exempt gun permit data from the state's open records laws used by the paper to obtain the names and addresses last month. Such privacy exemptions were included in gun control legislation Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed on Tuesday.

Writing in The Washington Post, media critic Erik Wemple was far more harsh: "The statement from Hasson is as cowardly as has been the newspaper’s handling of the crisis since just after Christmas."

Backs off earlier pledge
While Hasson promised to continue pursuing permit information for a third local community, Putnam County, she did not commit to publishing any names and addresses should they become available. That was a step the paper promised when it originally published searchable maps displaying the information for Westchester and Rockland counties.

Putnam officials, faced with a tide of opposition, denied the paper's open-records request, claiming the paper was threatening the safety of private citizens by guiding would-be burglars to homes with and without guns.

Also today, although Hasson said the paper would "continue to pursue our request for data from Putnam County," she did not indicate how strongly the paper would press forward.

Yet, immediately after Putnam denied the request, Hasson had said the paper would "aggressively" pursue the community’s "right of access to public record information."

It's not uncommon for papers to sue public officials for failing to comply with open-records laws, a legal step that can be very expensive -- as Gannett's New Jersey newspapers have recently demonstrated.

Late-Friday timing
Published at 5:20 p.m. ET, the timing of Hasson's letter is noteworthy. Many businesses disclose negative news about themselves late on Fridays, when it's less likely to get much attention from other media. In fact, at 7:48 p.m., only two readers had posted comments on her letter.

On Gannett Blog, Anonymous@8:07 p.m. just wrote: "This is late -- very late -- admission of a colossal failure in judgment. One of the worst we've ever seen in the print industry. The publisher's excuses will be proven to be distortions and mistruths when the Journal News does not continue to pursue getting the interactive map for Putnam."

In place of the original database, the newspaper is publishing static maps showing only thousands of red dots for the locations of the permit holders -- but so small as to make it impossible to see the actual addresses. Text accompanying those maps still says: "The map will be updated when that [Putnam] data is released."

The new maps still show the more than 2,800 comments readers posted originally -- many of them, ripping into the paper for what they said was a violation of the permit holders' privacy.

The original database and a related story, published after the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., ignited a nationwide firestorm of criticism pitting gun rights owners against advocates for press freedom.

Critics also posted Hasson's home address and phone numbers, plus those of other Journal News employees and of Gannett CEO Gracia Martore -- turning the tables on the paper and demonstrating the power of social media to empower so-called citizen journalists.

More recently, a well-known conservative activist posing as a gun opponent surreptitiously videotaped Hasson's husband and others in a bid to embarrass them.


  1. Friday afternoon dump.

    (Maybe no one will notice.)

    1. Janet Hasson's statement reminds me of that line from "Pee-wee's Big Adventure" when he wrecks his bike and goes flying over the handlebars onto the front lawn.

      "I MEANT to do that!"

  2. Exactly.

    This is late -- very late -- admission of a colossal failure in judgment. One of the worst we've ever seen in the print industry.

    The publisher's excuses will be proven to be distortions and mistruths when the Journal News does not continue to pursue getting the interactive map for Putnam.

    Hey Janet, if this was such a public service and so valuable for parents to review the info to protect their kids, doesn't one third of your coverage area (Putnam County) also deserve the same protection your and your fellow watchdogs provided the rest of your coverage area?

  3. What a coincidence that they would remove the list less than 24 hours after this....

  4. Well-reported, Jim, with nice context. Sure is a dump, and the rationale for the remove is pure garbage.

  5. Nice job, Jim.

    There was an error in judgment to simply throw a public database online. The database should have been a tool in the practice of journalism. Finding meaning and context. That takes real work.

    Now, New York State is limiting access to the list, which is terrible, and Gannett is not spending a penny to fight.

    That's "Gannett journalism" in 2013. How awful for everyone.

  6. Sad, sad, sad. And frankly, pathetic.

    Another lowlight, The Journal News trumpeting that there was no link to the robberies of the homes in gun database with the report, including one in a neighborhood that had not had a robbery in over 25 years.

    So much for objective reporting.

    Just one misstep after another in Westchester. You wonder how many members of senior management there will be given the heave-ho in the days/weeks to come.

    1. the report that the neighborhood has not had a burglary in 25 years is a myth. i happen to live in that neighborhood. my house, and two others, were burglarized in october. someone (a reporter maybe?) should check with the cops before putting out false info made by a neighbor who was obviously angry about the map. burglaries in white plains doubled last year, and a number took place in our neighborhood.

  7. Where are the lemmings now? The career minions who spinelessly and feebly attempted to defend Low-Hud the last few weeks? Come out, come out wherever you are! (I'm not holding my breath.)

  8. Why was this announcement made by the publisher and not the executive editor who should have control/authority over all editorial decisions? Another reason the Journal News is so dysfunctional and so many there so incompetent and, simply, unaware.

  9. In the course of news gathering in difficult stories to report, the Journal News has often knocked on doors and placed calls to news sources, expecting comment.

    Yet, here, when the Journal News was subject of this difficult story, it slammed doors on reporters. It didn't return calls.

    Yes, it even hired armed guards.

    It is the height of hypocrisy.

    And cowardice.

  10. Whoever had the final go--no go should be fired.

  11. The knee-jerk gun nuts dominate, but the fact is I'd like to know which homes have guns. Because I won't allow my children to play there. More guns in homes are used to murder, accidentally shoot or commit suicide than to defend a home under attack, by a ratio of 3:1. That's a stat the gun nuts have never addressed.

    1. Yours is a target rich post 10:46, one obviously written in a manner exposing your own fanaticism.

      Regardless, let’s focus on your rant about unaddressed stats as you’ve done the same yourself by ignoring the simplest one - significant gun ownership of all types exists in most homes. The Journal’s half-assed attempt didn’t capture them all, nor could they - ever.

      Hence, it’s your job as a parent to check, so quit blaming others and or expecting govt to do another task for you and act as one by asking, including how they’re secured if owned. Hell, even responsible gun owners ask that of others where their children play – including educating their own children of the dangers, yet apparently you’ll have none of that which speaks volumes.

    2. 10:46, that map pinpoints only the homes that have legally registered guns. When you send your child to a neighbor's house to play, do check to see if there are any other firearms on the premises? Hunting rifles or shotguns, for example? Or do you search the house for unregistered, illegal guns before letting you kid play there? And have you considered that the map for Rockland County is, by the County Clerk's estimation, at least 25% inaccurate?

      You seem ready to keep your child away from the homes of legal, registered, background-checked "gun nuts," but apparently don't worry about the REAL gun nuts who may have a stash of illegal firearms in their possession. Because you will have no way to know about those guns.

      Such fear on your part leads me to suggest you keep your children home at all times and invite the neighbors in to play with them there, under your supervision. And maybe search the visiting children as they arrive. Hey, that's really the only way to be sure your own kids are in a gun-free zone.

    3. Why don't you show me a statistic of how many crimes are committed by legally owned guns. You can't. Those statistics don't exist because they are so low. Kind of funny that a left wingnut liberal paper that is so against guns, hired armed guards to protect their building.

    4. I wish they would make a map of where all the liberal nut jobs live so I will make sure that my kids don't end up playing with their kids. Or...we can spin it so that I wish they would make the map so that I can have my kid beat up the liberals kids. Sounds like a good commercial, "Parents...Don't let Children Play with Liberals Children"

  12. Not really much of an option as The Journal News can remove it now voluntarily in the hopes of repairing the damage done, or via legal force as continuing to publish that data no doubt conflicts with intent and spirit of New York’s newly passed gun law.

  13. The credit for this fiasco lies with CR. Any guesses on how long before we hear of a medical leave?

    1. Credit Hasson and Cindee Royale for one thing. They have made the disastrous Journal News tenure of former publisher Tom "TD/GWB" Donovan and Henry M. "Choo, Choo Train," "Diet Coooke," "Georgia Bulldogs" Freeman now seem like the good old days.

  14. Let me see if I've got this right...

    If a home in the gun-reporting map area is burgled that DOES show as having a gun, that is the fault of the JN since the map let thieves know where to find guns to steal.

    If a home in the map area is burgled but DOES NOT appear on the map, that is also the JN's fault since the thieves knew there were no guns there and they were therefore easy pickin's.

    Ergo, all residential crime in the map area is the fault of the JN.

    Wow, I had absolutely no idea that the criminal community contained so many newspaper readers. Perhaps management should find a way to milk that constituency for ad dollars.

    1. Liberal spin.....your liberal web is becoming tangled. You will never spin your way out of this obvious failure.

    2. Way to respond to the points, 4:21. Your think tank must be proud of you.

    3. Wow, 1:32, that sounds like the same kind of "logic" applied to climate change. (Hotter than normal? Climate change! Colder than normal? Climate change!)

      Back to reality: The Journal News insisted that iits list of gun permit holders couldn't be downloaded, but one savvy reader called B.S. on that claim and posted this as proof:

    4. 5:30, that was my point. I guess my sarcasm didn't translate. This issue is being manipulated by gun advocates and used to gratuitously lambaste the JN, using completely inconsistent logic. I think that posting the info was politically stupid, particularly without providing context, but stupid isn't a crime. Critics can't have it both ways without cancelling out their own arguments.

      In my opinion the broader questions that need to be examined include what level of transparency we expect from our government, whether or not individuals have any reasonable expectation of privacy when dealing with public institutions, and, finally, what the role of the "free" press is in the debate. Right now one can see probated wills, records of tax payments, divorce proceedings, salaries of public officials, and transcripts of trials at will. Why not gun permit records? Or, should we hide all of that information, thereby hindering the work of a free press and potentially allowing abuses to flourish. Seems to me you can't have it both ways.

      And to your point about downloading records... I don't doubt that at all. If it can be seen online it can be downloaded. No question.

    5. 5:30 here again. OK, 6:10, I think I see where you're coming from now.

      Your point about the array of publicly available records is, in my mind, the crux of the controversy, although hardly anyone has focused on it.

      By that I mean that from day one, the Journal News has been justifying the publication of the gun permit information by stating that it was all public record. That's true, but so is the cavalcade of personal data that you mentioned.

      Anyone who's ever gone through divorce proceedings, wills and similar files (which obviously includes you, 6:10) knows that you can find an amazing array of personal stuff in there -- everything from kids' names to complaints about an ex-spouse's gambling addiction.

      And what it boils down to is a consistency/hypocrisy question for Journal News management.

      That is, if it's OK to publish gun owners' names and addresses because the information was publicly available, why would it not be just as OK to publish Journal News staffers' divorce records, kids' names, visitation rights, Social Security Numbers and anything else an enterprising citizen might dig up in those files? It's all public record, y'know.

  15. Maybe now papers will finally stop all the freedom of information crap and get back to writing news.

  16. The hysteria over a simple map showing basic facts only bolsters the basic point: Guns are bad things. Otherwise, why would everyone be so upset? So scared? So worried?

    Wasn't the point of having a gun to be secure? So why are the gun-owners so upset? If someone comes to their house, no problem. Get out old Betsy!

    I very much support TJN's posting of this information and very much regret that they have backed down.

    Secrecy is bad. Knowledge is good.

    The hysteria surrounding this -- crooks will know where to go; now I'm in danger; let's show where TJN people live -- is just that. Hysteria.

    Gun owners are upset because guns are not, in the end, good things. Who needs a gun in Westchester, for heaven's sake?

    TJN should be applauded for revealing the worrisome extent of gun ownership in a suburban county where if someone saw a bear they'd run back into their house and turn on their flat screen til it went away.

    Total nonsense, all this handwringing over nothing but a good public service by a local newspaper.

    1. Weak attempt at spinning.

      Bottom line - if this weren't an invasion of privacy and a reckless decision, TJN, as you call it, would have stood by the decision and not reversed it.

      Worse it, during the uproar, it hid from the public and refused interview requests from the media in a true sign that it recognized the magnitude of its mistake.

    2. @6:30

      Your argument is undermined by the behavior of Journal News management.

      If guns are bad things, as you claim, why do JN bigwigs want their offices and homes patrolled by security guards who carry them?

      And if no one in Westchester needs a gun, as you claim, why are the JN staffers who live there worried about having their names and addresses published online?

      You can't have it both ways.

      If the need for armed protection is overblown, then JN bosses are hypocrites for overreacting as badly as they think thousands of local gun owners are.

      And if the need for armed protection is legitimate, then the JN has no justification for subjecting local gun owners to further risk by publishing their names and addresses.

    3. 3:09, your argument is so dumb that it's amazing.

      There is a HUGE difference between a trained and armed security guard and Billy Joe Buttwipe at home with his multiple weapons that are likely unsecured. If you can't see that, then you need help.

      Also, do you have evidence that JN bigwigs had their homes patrolled by security guards? If so, present it. More than one example, please.

      You have it no ways. No logic, no facts, no point. Maybe you burned some calories by typing, but that's all you accomplished.

    4. Actually, 3:20, I burned even more calories laughing at what passes for logic in your spitball-shooting world, but thanks for your concern about my exercise regimen.

      I must say you're quite adept at attacking the messenger instead of the message. But if you spent as much time researching as you do ranting, you wouldn't waste your own keystrokes demanding evidence that security guards are patrolling the homes of Journal News bigwigs.

      Here, I'll throw you a bone:
      "The Rockland County Times confirms that guards were hired and remain posted in front of the homes of Journal News President Janet Hasson and Journal News Executive Editor Cynthia Lambert, alias CynDee Royle."

      Hey, want to see one of those mysterious security guard creatures posted in front of a JN boss' home? Dude, I'm here to help:

      Your Billy Joe Buttwipe stereotype still doesn't explain your blanket declaration that "Guns are bad things."

      Here, let me help sharpen your communications skills. Are you trying to say that guns are bad things when they're used to defend the lives and property of average citizens, but that guns are good things when they're used by surrogates to defend the lives and property of rich people?

      Do tell! (Or keep digging that hole, whichever you prefer.)

    5. The "Guns are bad things" declaration was from another post, Einstein.

      I agree with the other post. If you can't see the difference between someone trained to use a firearm as a condition of employment and someone who thinks they can take on the government with their six-gun, then you have no business participating in the discussion.

    6. @2:18

      And if you think every gun permit holder in two New York counties is some knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing redneck with an itchy trigger finger and an unlocked case of loaded firearms, then you should confine your comments to boards frequented by others like yourself who see the world in narrow-minded elitist stereotypes.

      The reality is that gun permit holders on the Journal News' list include present and former police officers, prison guards, judges, and military personnel, not to mention single women whose lives have been threatened by ex-boyfriends, ex-husbands and stalkers.

      Moreover, it's not as if all 33,000 permit holders on the Journal News' list walked into Walmart one day and walked out 5 minutes later with a gun. A little research (get to know Mr. Google) would have given you lots of fun facts like this one:

      "In Westchester County, our County judges determine whether a pistol permit will be issued. The Westchester County Department of Public Safety Pistol License Unit conducts the investigation necessary to assist the court in determining whether a pistol permit should be issued."

      Moreover, it's not as if only security guards receive firearms training. Here's something else you probably never bothered to look up:

      "All [Rockland County] applicants are required to take a Firearms Safety Course prior to the issuance of their license. The course given by the Rockland County Sheriff’s Department is the preferred and accepted class for pistol license applicants."

      But hey, don't let a little reality get in the way of your Billy Joe Buttwipe gun nut fantasies.

  17. In my mind, Hasson had two choices:

    1. Stand firm, and keep the gun database in place. (This would have been my choice.)

    2. Admit that, on further reflection, the paper had erred in publishing the database -- and then take it down. (That doesn't look so good, but at least it's honest, because that's really what happened.)

    Instead, she chose a third, saying the paper was right to publish the database in the first place; wasn't conceding anything to critics, but nonetheless was going to take it down anyway.

    But few will buy that. Now, the Journal News only looks journalistically weak and intellectually dishonest.

    In some respects, this is worse than The Cincinnati Enquirer's decision to remove its 1998 Chiquita Banana expose from public view, and then renounce it in a page-one apology.

    In that case, at least, the paper conceded its reporter had used unlawful methods in his reporting, and the paper sought to limit financial fallout through a settlement with the Chiquita company.

    In the Journal News' case, there was no such legal pressure. The database had been obtained through public documents under open-records laws.

    One thing's clear: the Journal News won't be winning Gannett's annual Freedom of Information Act prize.

    1. Jim - you nailed it.

      As has been stated, this will go down as one of the worst decisions in industry history.

      You knew it was going to be a disaster when the Journal News senior management was not forthright. It hid from media asking questions. It dodged and ducked. It never really defended its decision in a sincere manner. That made it clear the decision was a hasty one.

      What would the Journal News think of someone it was reporting on that did what it did? Easy. That it had something to hide. The Journal News literally did just that.

      Now, there must be serious repercussions.

      We still have a long way to go in this one.

  18. Why was the only voice heard on this that of the overmatched Janet Hasson whose background is in auto advertising? Is this Gannett's idea of Journalism 2013? How sad.

  19. What role did corporate play in this decision?

    1. I assume the Law Department carefully reviewed this decision, as well as the text of Hasson's letter.

      Having said that, right now, more than 24 hours after it was first published, there's still a word missing in the first paragraph ("opportunity [to] make") of her letter.

      "In the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, The Journal News thought the community should know where gun permit holders in their community were, in part to give parents an opportunity make careful decisions about their children’s safety."

      That's depressingly sloppy.

    2. Sloppy, indeed. I'm sure Cyndee Royle and Hasson collaborated on this "letter." It shows.

      As 9:09 points out, where was corporate? Did an attorney look at this letter before it was published?

      This is now negligence not just by the Journal News as a company but Gannett as a corporation. (Not that it wasn't before.)

      As 8:22 said, we still have a long way to go on this one.

    3. Speaking of sloppy, Jim, you might want to fix Hasson's name under her photo from "Jason".
      (Unless you intended to make a "Friday the 13th" reference, hah!)

    4. You're right. Thanks for pointing that out; I've now fixed it.

  20. CynDee was defending the story up until the minute it was taken down.

    1. Talk about "sticking to your guns"!


  22. I am absolutely in favor of this gun criticism

  23. The Hasson letter was a real shuck-and-jive attempt to close a pathetically amateurish chapter in journalism history. She writes (with a straight face?) that the map came down partly because, well, people have seen it, digested it and commented on it long enough. And, the data could start getting old. So those, along with the new legislation in Albany, represent good cause to take it down, she claims. But since when do journalists pull an item off the web for these reasons? If a story is legit, you leave it UP. For as long as it retains reader interest. If data for a map gets old, you UPDATE it...and keep the map going! You DON'T remove it! Unless, of course, you or someone in power at Gannett thought it wasn't exactly the right thing to do in the first place. Because it was crap journalism. Or it was costing the paper piles of readers and ad money.

    1. Ever come across broken links? Places remove things all the time. It's not possible to update every item until the apocalypse (at which time the gun nuts will be doomed to eternal damnation, BTW).

      In this case, it would have been better for Hash-on to be more straightforward, or even to deliver a much-needed slam on the gun crazies. That would have been something to respect.

      Help the world today. Point out the stupidity of a gun crazy. If enough people do this every day, they might learn.

    2. Which "gun crazies" are you talking about -- the citizens who are protecting their homes, or the ones Hasson and her fellow "suits" are paying by the hour to protect theirs?

      I guess what you're saying is that if you can't afford to hire armed surrogates for 'round-the-clock protection, you don't deserve to be able to defend your life, your family and your property ... right?

  24. This comment has been removed by the author.

  25. Call to Action: Demand accountability; terminate employment of Hasson and Royle. YOUR publisher and YOUR editor violated the trust of the community. They placed EVERYONE is harm's way; HASSON/ROYLE alerted 'wrong-doers' of which residences have guns and which one's don't!! No analysis of the raw data; just throw everyone under the bus? PLEASE terminate their employment. Look for my upcoming petition on DEMAND ACCOUNTABILITY - FIRE HASSON AND ROYLE! They cannot be trusted!!!

  26. There is a HUGE difference between a trained and armed security guard and Billy Joe Buttwipe at home with his multiple weapons that are likely unsecured. If you can't see that, then you need help.



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