The head of the Ohio Newspaper Association has called a new state bill proposing to block reporters’ access to the names of handgun permit-holders “bad precedent.” It’s easy to see why: the public has been barred from access since Ohio’s concealed-carry law was passed seven years ago, and since 2007, reporters have only been allowed to view the lists (without taking notes).
House Bill 328 would force reporters to obtain a court order to see the lists. Ohio journalists had used these records to cross-reference the names of alleged criminals in gun crimes against lists of permit holders.
“Judges shouldn’t be editors,” writes ONA Executive Director Dennis Hetzel in an association bulletin. “And reporters shouldn’t have to go to court to get permission to do their jobs.” The association represents more than 400 Ohio print and online news publications.
The Columbus Dispatch’s Randy Ludlow offers an excellent overview of the proposal, including the supposed logic of the forces behind it. Needless to say, such bills have a way of crossing state lines, and it could soon be coming to a legislature near you.
On a related note: interesting new scholarship is shedding light on the problems of government open-records training procedures.
The small daily Post Register of Idaho Falls, Idaho is not USA Today, and its editor Roger Plothow is not a famous media commentator, but he’s just written an inspiring little defense of the purpose of journalism from a principles perspective. It’s a nice relief from arguments about journalism’s role so often couched in terms of politics, technology, economics, specialized training, and even education.
In a way, journalism can best be defined by what it’s not. It’s not a shouting match. It’s not just holding out a microphone. It’s not even just who, what, when, where, why and how. It’s the work of committed people who actually believe that what they do is important.
From Gawker.com: the New York Times’ standards editor, Phil Corbett, has issued a memorandum reminding writers to beware “boilerplate” explanations or no explanations at all when using unnamed sources. Corbett suggests that reporters include a “thoughtful sentence or paragraph” to illuminate the pressures leading to anonymous sourcing, and he lists sample explanations:
- “out of fear for his safety.”
- “out of fear of retaliation from X.”
- “because parties to the negotiations had promised to keep them confidential.”
- “because the company has threatened to fire workers who speak to the press.”
- “because Politician X insists that his aides not speak to reporters.”
- “to avoid antagonizing Official X.”
- “because disclosing grand jury testimony can be illegal.”
And how did Gawker get this memo, by the way? An unnamed source, of course.