Blogs > 37th Frame

Photography, notes, commentary and much more from former Reporter Online Editor Chris Stanley.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Outing the gun owners

In the modern media, freeing formerly hidden information from the dark shadows of government file cabinets and warehouses is usually looked upon as a prime directive. Statistics, lists, maps, demographics and other data can tell us much about what is happening in our country, both bad and good, and alert us to those that would abuse the system by hiding in the red tape.

There is much information available for the asking - licenses, tax liens, financial records, criminal records, housing data, police activity, health inspection records - the list goes on and on. At times, even mundane information can become significant - like when it turns out that a candidate for office has a criminal record, or maybe doesn't even live in the district they are trying to represent. And few would argue that highlighting restaurant inspection reports is an invasion of privacy - after all, we put a lot of trust in an unseen kitchen every time we go out to eat. This is really our only protection.

So in this spirit, last week the web site (the online side of the Westchester, NY newspaper Journal News) published a map showing the location of all the gun owners in Westchester and Rockland counties, just north of New York City. It was tied to an article called 'The gun owner next door', and was designed to inform readers of the number of weapons legally registered in their neighborhoods. But more than just listing numbers, it also listed the names of each gun owner and their exact location, predictably causing much angst among privacy advocates and the gun owners themselves, who saw the map as a street guide for criminals intent on stealing their weapons.

Also predictably, the map started a debate within the media community as to whether this information - just because it is available - is appropriate for publication. One blogger went as far as to 'out' personal - but publicly-available - information of members of the newspaper staff including their home addresses.

Though some might see this debate over gun rights, I believe it is really about information control - what is fair, what is responsible, and what is useful vs. the right to 'privacy among the masses' - that is to say the right to live your life without intimidation or unwarranted scrutiny. Few would argue that general statistics on gun ownership in specific suburban neighborhoods would be good information in the wake of the Newtown school shooting, but what does the house-by-house map actually accomplish? What is the context of this information? Are we supposed to feel more or less safe knowing the exact location of every legal weapon in our neighborhoods? Will every person on that map suddenly come under a cloud of suspicion for doing the right thing and registering their weapons? Is that fair?

The publication of this map left many of these questions open. Stay tuned for the backlash.

1/2/2013 UPDATE: The backlash 
1/4/2013 UPDATE: Officials fight back on pistol permit data request
1/7/2013 UPDATE: Newspaper staff threatened over map

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Front pages

How the Sandy Hook, CT school shooting story played in a few Journal Register Company print editions today:

Torrington, CT

New Haven, CT

Middletown, CT

Delaware County, PA

West Chester, PA

Pottstown, PA

Lansdale, PA

Norristown, Pa


Mount Pleasant, MI

Saratoga, NY

Oakland, MI

Macomb, MI

Trenton, NJ

Troy, NY

Friday, December 14, 2012

Message for parents

Our school district (North Penn) sent home this email following the horrific shootings in Connecticut today:

As you may now have seen or heard, the Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut experienced an awful tragedy.  Our thoughts are with this community during such a troubling time.  In times like these, it is difficult to understand and explain such actions to adults and even more difficult to explain to a child.  We feel it is the parents’ decision on how they are going to share the news of such events with their children. To help with this difficult conversation, we have attached a guide and advice from the National Mental Health Institute.  

Curtis R. Dietrich

AP photo

Here are some things that can be helpful while discussing school violence:

Encourage children to talk about their concerns and to express their feelings. Some children may be hesitant to initiate such conversation, so you may want to prompt them by asking if they feel safe at school. When talking with younger children remember to talk on their level. For example, they may not understand the term “violence” but can talk to you about being afraid or a classmate who is mean to them.

Talk honestly about your own feelings regarding school violence. It is important for children to recognize they are not dealing with their fears alone.

Validate the child’s feelings. Do not minimize a child’s concerns. Let him/her know that serious school violence is not common, which is why these incidents attract so much media attention. Stress that schools are safe places. In fact, recent studies have shown that schools are more secure now than ever before.

Empower children to take action regarding school safety. Encourage them to report specific incidents (such as bullying, threats or talk of suicide) and to develop problem solving and conflict resolution skills. Encourage older children to actively participate in student-run anti-violence programs.
Discuss the safety procedures that are in place at your child’s school. Explain why visitors sign in at the principal’s office or certain doors remain locked during the school day. Help your child understand that such precautions are in place to ensure his or her safety and stress the importance of adhering to school rules and policies.

Create safety plans with your child. Help identify which adults (a friendly secretary, trusted teacher or approachable administrator) your child can talk to if they feel threatened at school. Also ensure that your child knows how to reach you (or another family member or friend) in case of crisis during the school day. Remind your child that they can talk to you anytime they feel threatened.
Recognize behavior that may indicate your child is concerned about returning to school. Younger children may react to school violence by not wanting to attend school or participate in school-based activities. Teens and adolescents may minimize their concerns outwardly, but may become argumentative, withdrawn, or allow their school performance to decline.

Keep the dialogue going and make school safety a common topic in family discussions rather than just a response to an immediate crisis. Open dialogue will encourage children to share their concerns.
Seek help when necessary. If you are worried about a child’s reaction or have ongoing concerns about his/her behavior or emotions, contact a mental health professional at school or at your community mental health center.

In addition, there are many resources that North Penn School District Counselors can provide to you: books, articles, names of grief counselors and therapists as well as organizations that provide support to families. School counselors will be available on Monday to assist student who need help understanding this tragedy.

Other resources about talking with children about death.

Horror in CT