Opinion

Op-Ed: Why I will not be taking down my map of Journal News employees

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Opinion,Op-Eds

After 27 days of near universal criticism, Janet Hasson, publisher of the Journal News in suburban New York City, has removed a controversial Google map of gun owners with permits in Westchester County, N.Y. (where I live), and in nearby Rockland County.

Soon after, reporters called wanting to know if I now intend to take down a Google map I published 25 days ago, which displays the home addresses of Journal News employees along with other personal details.

Fat chance.

My map is not going anywhere. It will remain up for as long as I publish my little hyperlocal news site, Talk of the Sound.

The way I see it, the Journal News does not get to pick a fight and then decide when it ends.

I am not a gun owner. I was not on the Journal News map. I am a strong proponent of Freedom of Information laws. I do not dispute the right to obtain public records.

So why did I create my map? I object to the notion that it is a good idea to create an interactive map with turn-by-turn directions to the homes of otherwise private persons simply because information is public record and people might be curious -- simply because those private persons filled out a required government form.

The Journal News map was not journalism. It was not even political activism. It was voyeurism, with Janet Hasson as a digital Peeping Tom, peering into the bedrooms of readers to see what she might see.

Today, the paper is publishing gun maps. Tomorrow, it might publish a map of recipients of unemployment insurance or gay and lesbian married couples. Where will the Journal News draw the line?

My map is a direct and proportionate response to the Journal News. Absent the context of the Journal News gun map, I would not create a map displaying the home addresses of reporters. It was the best worst option: You put my friends and neighbors on your map, then I am going to put your employees on my map and see how you like it.

The answer to that last question would appear to be "not much."

The Journal News hired armed guards to protect their offices and homes. Some Journal News employees removed their social media presence, disconnected their phones and went underground. Hasson whined to the New York Times about her First Amendment right to publish her map, oblivious to the Second Amendment right of others to own guns.

Hasson portrayed her few dozen reporters as victims because they felt threatened without expressing the slightest concern for the tens of thousands of gun owners and their families who were actually put in harm's way by her indiscriminate publication of their names and addresses -- including judges, state and federal prosecutors, retired law enforcement officials, corrections officers, victims of domestic violence, and others who are rightly concerned for their own safety and choose to own a hand gun.

The damage done by the Journal News does not go away simply because it has removed its map. It was viewed more than a million times. Those names are out there and will remain out there permanently.

Moreover, we have certainly not heard the last on gun maps from the Journal News

In an open letter published by the Journal News on Sunday, Hasson stated her intention to continue to press for gun owner data for Putnam County -- the one county which refused to comply with the Journal News' Freedom of Information request -- and leaves open the possibility she may publish a new map when a recently imposed 120-day moratorium on gun owner data expires this spring.

So no, my map isn't going anywhere.

Robert Cox is the managing editor of Talk of the Sound, a hyperlocal news site based in New Rochelle, N.Y.

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