September 23, 2021

After Pinpointing Gun Owners, Journal News Is a Target

Two weeks ago, the paper published the names and addresses of handgun permit holders — a total of 33,614 — in two suburban counties, Westchester and Rockland, and put maps of their locations online. The maps, which appeared with the article “The Gun Owner Next Door: What You Don’t Know About the Weapons in Your Neighborhood,” received more than one million views on the Web site of The Journal News — more than twice as many as the paper’s previous record, about a councilman who had two boys arrested for running a cupcake stand.

But the article, which left gun owners feeling vulnerable to harassment or break-ins, also drew outrage from across the country. Calls and e-mails grew so threatening that the paper’s president and publisher, Janet Hasson, hired armed guards to monitor the newspaper’s headquarters in White Plains and its bureau in West Nyack, N.Y.

Personal information about editors and writers at the paper has been posted online, including their home addresses and information about where their children attended school; some reporters have received notes saying they would be shot on the way to their cars; bloggers have encouraged people to steal credit card information of Journal News employees; and two packages containing white powder have been sent to the newsroom and a third to a reporter’s home (all were tested by the police and proved to be harmless).

“As journalists, we are prepared for criticism,” Ms. Hasson said, as she sat in her meticulously tended office and described the ways her 225 employees have been harassed since the article was published. “But in the U.S., journalists should not be threatened.” She has paid for staff members who do not feel safe in their homes to stay at hotels, offered guards to walk employees to their cars, encouraged employees to change their home telephone numbers and has been coordinating with the local police.

The decision to report and publish the data, taken from publicly available records, happened within a week of the school massacre in nearby Newtown, Conn. On Dec. 17, Dwight R. Worley, a tax reporter, returned from trying to interview the families of victims in Newtown with an idea to obtain and publish local gun permit data. He discussed his idea with his immediate editor, Kathy Moore, who in turn talked to her bosses, according to CynDee Royle, the paper’s editor.

Mr. Worley started putting out requests for public information that Monday, receiving the data from Westchester County that day and from Rockland County three days later. All the editors involved said there were not any formal meetings about the article, although it came up at several regular news meetings. Ms. Royle, who had been at The Journal News in 2006 when the newspaper published similar data, without mapping it or providing street numbers, said that editors discussed publishing the data in at least three meetings.

Ms. Hasson said Ms. Royle told her that an article with gun permit data would be published on Sunday, Dec. 23. While Ms. Hasson had not been at the paper in 2006, she knew there had been some controversy then. She made sure to be available on Dec. 23 by e-mail, and accessible to the staff if any problems came up. A spokesman for Gannett, which owns The Journal News, said it was never informed about the coming article.

“We’ve run this content before,” Ms. Hasson said. “I supported it, and I supported the publishing of the info.”

By Dec. 26, employees had begun receiving threatening calls and e-mails, and by the next day, reporters not involved in the article were being threatened. The reaction did not stop at the local paper: Gracia C. Martore, the chief executive of Gannett, also received threatening messages.

Many of the threats, Ms. Hasson said, were coming from across the country, and not from the paper’s own community. But local gun owners and supporters are encouraging an advertiser boycott of The Journal News. Scott Sommavilla, president of the 35,000-member Westchester County Firearm Owners Association, said 44,000 people had downloaded a list of advertisers from his group’s Web site. But he emphasized that his association would never encourage any personal threats. Appealing to advertisers, he said, is the best way for gun owners to express their disapproval of the article.

“They’re really upset about it,” Mr. Sommavilla said. “They’re afraid for their families.”

The paper’s decision has drawn criticism from journalists who question whether The Journal News should have provided more context and whether it was useful to publish individual names and addresses. Journalists with specialties in computer-assisted reporting have argued that just because public data has become more readily available in recent years does not mean that it should be published raw. In ways, they argued, it would have been more productive to publish data by ZIP code or block.

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Data Networks Pose a Threat to Wireless Carriers

Wireless carriers now funnel voice and data traffic over two separate networks and charge customers accordingly. In the not-so-distant future, analysts and industry executives say, all mobile services, including text messages and voice and video calls, will travel over data networks.

Microsoft’s recent $8.5 billion deal to buy Skype, the Internet calling service, could accelerate this change — one that is forcing wireless carriers to adapt. Services like Skype can cut into the carriers’ revenues because they offer easy ways to make phone calls, videoconference and send messages free over the Internet, encroaching on the ways that phone companies have traditionally made money.

The telecommunications industry is already in a state of flux as more people disconnect their home telephone lines in favor of cellphones. Now the wireless carriers are looking for new ways to make money based on mobile broadband and applications, rather than voice minutes.

“Eventually, everything migrates to a data channel,” said Brian Higgins, an executive at Verizon Wireless who is developing products and services for the company’s high-speed 4G network. “We’re moving away from silos of communication to one where everything is combined together.”

Analysts tend to agree that Microsoft is not looking to steal business from the wireless carriers. Instead it hopes to revitalize itself by creating innovative software for smartphones and tablets, with Skype’s services built in. Microsoft will need companies like ATT and Verizon Wireless to put their confidence and marketing budgets behind those devices to appeal to consumers.

But the Skype deal also signifies a larger interest in next-generation communications services. It is not just Skype that the wireless companies need to worry about. A bevy of mobile messaging applications, including WhatsApp, Kik, GroupMe and textPlus, allow people to send messages over data networks, sidestepping the cost of sending and receiving standard text messages.

Carriers already must deal with many new competitors in the communications game. Name companies like Apple, Facebook and Google are making services available that traditionally only carriers could offer. Google, like Skype, offers ways to make free phone and video calls over the Internet. Apple lets iPhone owners make video calls.

The ultimate risk for the carriers, analysts say, is becoming “dumb pipes,” providing only the data connection and not selling any more sophisticated communications services themselves.

“Much of the value in communication now sits above basic connectivity,” said Charles S. Golvin, a telecom analyst with Forrester Research. “Things like IM, video calling like FaceTime, and Web conferencing. These are delivered to consumers by companies like Google, Apple and Cisco — not the carriers.”

Chetan Sharma, an independent telecommunications analyst, points to one instance in which the growing popularity of using mobile applications to communicate has hurt a wireless company.

Last month, KPN, a wireless carrier in the Netherlands, cut its profit forecast and reported a 10 percent decline in quarterly revenue from text messaging, which the company attributed to applications that give people free access to voice and text services if they have a data plan.

“It’s an early indicator that it could happen elsewhere,” Mr. Sharma said.

In the United States, no signs indicate that the volume of text messages sent or voice minutes used is in decline, he said. But revenue from voice services has dropped steadily as carriers have move toward unlimited calling plans to stay competitive with one another, lowering the average revenue that can be generated per minute of talk time.

In the United States, Mr. Sharma said, voice revenue has declined 7 percent over the last four years, while data revenue has soared 132 percent. Over all, data revenue now makes up 35 percent of the total revenue for the wireless industry.

Carriers have responded to the shift toward digital communication differently. Some seek to leverage the new wave of services to differentiate themselves and gain an edge over competitors. Sprint, for example, recently united with Google to let its customers link their Sprint phone numbers to Google Voice, a service that rings all of a person’s phones and even Gmail when someone calls that person’s number.

Others, like Verizon Wireless, say there is plenty of money to be made from their mobile data networks. They say demand for data services will drive sales and adoption of smartphones, which are more lucrative to wireless carriers because they require expensive data plans.

“There will be an increased appetite for devices that can access higher bandwidth, which I find very encouraging,” Mr. Higgins of Verizon said.

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