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I'm just saying: Just because you can doesn't mean you should

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By John Whitlock

There is an old saying in journalism that I used to share with the reporters and photographers. I usually applied it to people retouching pictures with Photoshop.
“Just because you can doesn’t mean you should,” I would tell them.
That axiom couldn’t have been more true than a couple of weeks ago when a New York area newspaper published an on-line interactive map of registered gun owners in parts of their coverage area.
The paper obtained the names and addresses through normal public records requests.
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Opinions on guns and gun ownership are no doubt quite a bit different in New York state than they are in Kentucky but I can see no journalistic reason to publish this information.
Publishing that information doesn’t promote any real dialog about the gun control or second-amendment rights. Sure, it will sell some papers, create some controversy and generate web site hits.
In the end, publishing this information promotes the idea that some gun owners have that the government will come for their guns.
I’m not a fan of conspiracy theories but this situation begs the question of motivative. Did the paper intentionally want to paint a picture that these gun owners may be dangerous? Why did the names of law-abiding citizens need to be published in the paper?
There is a lot of responsibility related to publishing a newspaper. The decisions we make and the impact they could have must always be a consideration.

••••
One of the hurdles of doing a “year-in-review” paper is that some of the stories change over the course of 12 months.
In our recent year-end round up, we reprinted an item from January 2012 concerning the unfortunate death of a Daniel Ballard who died in a automobile accident.
At the time of the story, Owen County Sheriff Zemer Hammond suspected Larry C. Conway of Frankfort, who also died in the crash, may have had a stroke that caused him to lose control of the vehicle.
After the item ran, Ballard’s family contacted me and said investigators later found that Conway was intoxicated at the time of the crash. This information had never been released to the News-Herald.
The family wanted to share this information so other people might become aware of the dangers of drunken driving and how decisions can affect the lives of so many other people.