In the field of media reporting, Rupert Murdoch is a hot interview. Roger Ailes is a hot interview. Nate Silver is a hot interview.
Over the past three weeks, though, a group of heretofore-anonymous editors and executives who do their business in White Plains, N.Y., have come to rival such stars in the category of media “gets.” They’re the braintrust of the Journal News, the Lower Hudson Valley newspaper that last month published the names and addresses of gun permit holders in Rockland and Westchester counties, stirring a prolonged controversy over privacy and public safety. To inquiry after inquiry after inquiry from a great number of news outlets, the Journal News has said no.
The New York Times, though, walked through the front door. In light of the Journal News’s disciplined resistance to accountability from other news organizations, the interview by the New York Times is looking more and more like a coup. How’d it pull this off?
The Jan. 7 New York Times article came under the byline of media reporter Christine Haughney, and it revealed that the Journal News hustled the data and accompanying story from concept to completion in a week. Not a single formal meeting was convened to discuss the project, Haughney reported. The account reinforced impressions cast by the story and accompanying database that this was a data dump and not much else. The piece also documented the threats to Journal News employees and the company’s security countermeasures.
Haughney confronted the same blanket policy that other reporters have found at the Journal News: “No,” that is.
She tried her best to persuade. She pointed out to the Journal News that she had covered Gannett papers in the past and would cover them in the future. “The local paper said no, and I explained to them that I have a long relationship with Gannett,” says Haughney. The implicit message was that she couldn’t afford to do a one-off slam on the Journal News. “So I could do a hack job, but the bottom line is that Gannett wouldn’t speak to me again if I didn’t make sure that the reporting was balanced and fair,” she says.
Nor would Haughney accept an interview denial. “When they said no, I said I’m showing up on Friday morning,” Jan. 4, she says.
According to Haughney, the Journal News responded, “We will make ourselves accessible for a limited time period.”