The public counts on journalists to be fastidious, careful checkers of facts. It is embarrassing enough when reporters and editors fail to perform their basic due diligence in their attention to facts, but when a editorial board fails in this regard, a cloud of suspicion begins to form over the entire organization. The Racine Journal Times editorial board has failed their profession and the rest of their employees by publishing an editorial titled “Google should ban gun-debate apps from its store” (Febuary 7th, 2015) without performing even the most rudimentary fact checking, and in the process have misled their readers.
Where even to begin correcting this mess of careless assumptions casually presented as fact? Maybe most fundamentally, the editors have misconstrued my Gun Geo Marker app as representing the position of the anti-gun crowd, somehow missing that it is in fact a pro-second amendment app. That the makers of Gunfree Geo Marker choose it as their target has nothing to do with “sides” in the national gun debate, on which both apps are essentially on the same general side of the field even given the very different functionality as software. It is perhaps a nuance once step to subtle for the Journal Times, but the “Gunfree” app was created by second amendment absolutists who believe – contrary to every supreme court decision on the issue – that the second amendment specifies an unlimited right. As the creator of the Gun Geo Marker app itself, I hope that all of the readers of this open letter to the editors will at least accept as actual my sincere agreement with the Supreme Court that the right to keep and bear firearms is constitutionally protected, yet is also a limited right much as free speech under the first amendment is. I am a gun(s) owner. Where I diverge from the absolutist position is in my strong belief that responsible gun ownership that respects legitimate public concern with gun safety is the best way to preserve our second amendment rights in the long run. And it is true, gun rights radicals can find no space within their dogma to account for this position shared by myself and millions of other gun owners, so they incorrectly situate it as anti-gun. It is embarrassing to see an entire editorial board adopt this simplistic model of what constitutes a real second amendment supporter. You are supposed to be checking each other’s assumptions; at least this is why I have always assumed that editorial boards of one person are rare. Maybe I’m missing something?
None of my political orientation nor its representation in the app itself is any kind of secret. There are these things called search engines. Other articles have been written about the Gun Geo Marker. It is all in the public record. Had the board been especially on top of their game, they might even have paused for a moment to consider why it is that Gun Geo Marker has not been removed from Google Play while the Gunfree Geo Marker apparently was? I think all reading this far would agree, there must be some explanation, and many interested readers would be curious to understand why. Does the reality that one of the apps is apparently banned and the other is not have some basis in facts? Facts that the (presumably) most experienced journalists in Racine would have some set of well developed skills garnered from their professional lives that they might have employed to investigate, interrogate and report on? Before they editorialized? Do tangible facts matter in today’s professional journalism?
I will leave some hints here as to how this editorial board might have gone about performing their roles in a way that would have set a good example for the rest of their reporters. Perhaps they could have read about the Gun Geo Marker app in the Google Play store or the Gun Geo Marker web site. Looking at available screen shots might have helped. If these failed to lend confidence, perhaps they should have run the app, trying it out in order to suss out its function.
Does it matter to the editorial board that one of the two apps they conflate targeted a list of specific individuals whom that app’s developers were intentionally targeting for harassment? Does it matter that the other app does not do this? Should it matter that one of the two apps makes its information global and available nationally so as to reach a maximum number of potential fellow travelers and marshal the maximum harassment of those particular targeted individuals? Whereas the other app very carefully limits the scope of communication to that between neighbors who by definition are near to one another, thinking about local problems in a local context? A context which is the only context – that of the community – where information about unsafe gun usage is likely to be of any practical use in the hands of concerned citizens? Does it matter to the editorial board that one of these apps simply can not be used as a doxing tool because it presents absolutely no way for people to browse its user-submitted data on a global or national scale? Hence, not reaching any global or national audience of potential harassers? Or that one app does not condone the publication of names or addresses of persons but rather the mere marking and short description of potentially dangerous places? Places, not people.
I think the public at large should be forgiven for innocently conflating the functions of what are in any careful, facts-based analysis actually two very different apps. The general public does not have time to digest that level of detail given their busy lives working in professions other than journalism. But discovering and attending to important and often complex facts is exactly the job, the responsibility, and indeed the fundamental enterprise of ethical reporting. Getting it right and providing clarity about the differences between the apps was a basic journalistic responsibility that was obviously not attempted in this instance. Even had the editorial board come to the exact same conclusion that “Google should ban both apps from its store” (because perhaps there is a well reasoned argument to make) they nevertheless had a professional responsibility to editorialize based on the facts of the apps as opposed to some alternative imaginary that conjures them as the same thing coming from two different political perspectives. It is not true that the apps do the same thing as the editorial assumes, and it is not true that the perspectives of the apps’ makers lie on different sides of the national gun debate. For the sake of journalism, I hope the staff and employees of the Journal Times are not looking to their senior editors as their exemplars of professional journalism. Even as a non-journalist, I am aware that journalism requires much more sweat of the brow than evidenced at the Racine Journal Times.