Cowardice is not a journalistic value

Romenesko pointed to this truly jaw-dropping note from a newspaper in North Carolina, which apologizes to the public for requesting the records of gun ownership in the county. It also apologized to the sheriff—the one who refused to follow the public records law—and withdrew the request.

It seems like there was a fair bit of outrage over the request, which was apparently leaked by the sheriff. Besides outrage, the publisher and editor were apparently threaten with both physical harm and a boycott of advertisers.

I understand trying to back away from controversy, but from what I can gather, the paper was trying to do a story on whether the sheriff was following the law when issuing gun permits, and ended up being bullied into letting him violate the public records law. That isn’t just bad journalism, it’s cowardice.

I feel bad for the people who worked there. It has to be frightening to see your family threatened for doing your job. I can even understand withdrawing the request—though I think that would be the wrong call. But to grovel? To throw out any credibility you’d ever have with the community? To apologize for asking for something you have a right as a citizen to have? That’s shameful, and it shows a true lack of leadership on the publisher’s part.

 
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