Shots were fired

The Tennessean tried something Tuesday The Roanoke Times tried in March - with the same results.

Surely, they foresaw what would happen?

Both put up databases of people in their state who had permits to carry a concealed weapon. Both took them offline fairly quickly in a hail of blog bullets.

Brittney Gilbert has a good rundown of the Tennessean shootout. Leading the charge seems to be SayUncle, who may have summed up the opposition to the public database with his blog headline: Tennessean Publishes “Steal Me” List. Bloggers noticed the database early Tuesday and by mid-afternoon, it was over, a letter from Tennessean managing editor Meg Downey was on this blog confirming that the database wasn't just suddenly or temporarily 404, but had been taken down.

It is an illustration that just because you legally and easily can publish databases of public information, the public might not think you should. And if you can't defend your position in answering their concerns, maybe they have a point.

In would be no surprise to find people often don't like having their names in publicly searchable databases. CEOs of publicly traded companies don't like their total compensation listed. Public officials don't like government salary databases. People want to keep divorces and bankruptcies out of the paper. Some people don't want what they sold their house for known. Politicians don't particularly like campaign disclosure laws or campaign finance databases -- unless it detrimental to the efforts of their opponents. Public information can be downright embarrassing when it, well, becomes public.

How information is handled (or what we choose to publish/broadcast) in an age of Internet and electronic databases can be vexing. The media should make as much information available as possible. Government, itself, at all levels should be more open; not less so. I'm all for Sunshine. But as the gun database shows, the rational can't just be "because we can."

Both the Roanoke and Nashville incidents show how fast and effectively a decision can be questioned and, that, yes, the powers that be do sometimes listen. I haven't a clue as to what was discussed internally at 1100 Broadway in putting up or taking down the gun permit database. It appears from here The Tennessean decided it wasn't worth taking the shots to leave it up.

Doubtful the most sterling day in American Journalism from start to end, but a pretty good example of what the buzzwords "interacting with your audience" and "two-way communication" can mean for mainstream media. In the old days before security cards and ID badges, they'd just show up at the office and slug the editor. But things were simpler then, weren't they?


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