Wading into the fray over guns and bullets

A week ago Tues­day, even as we were put­ting fin­ish­ing touches on a Page One story about post­cards from the past, I began talk­ing with re­port­er Bill Kenny about the gun show story you see on this week’s cov­er.

The Na­tion­al Guard Ar­mory on Roosevelt Boulevard has long been a ma­jor ven­ue for gun shows in North­east Philly, and the one com­ing up last week­end would be the first since the hor­rif­ic school shoot­ing in New­town, Conn. We knew we wanted to be at the show, and Bill and I began dis­cuss­ing what the ele­ments of the story could be and what obstacles the pa­per might face.

We have largely let our read­ers speak when it came to cov­er­age of the shoot­ing and the ef­fort na­tion­ally and loc­ally to tight­en gun own­er­ship laws. We’ve pub­lished more than two dozen let­ters from read­ers on many sides of the is­sue,  the text of a speech by U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz and even a few poems on the top­ic. The con­ver­sa­tion con­tin­ues to flow this week with even more let­ters.  Pres­id­ent Obama has kept the na­tion­al de­bate on the front burn­er with his pro­pos­als to tight­en gun own­er­ship laws and ban as­sault weapons. 

Our let­ters pages are home for your opin­ions, but the news pages have dif­fer­ent rules en­tirely. This is where we present our best ef­fort at ob­ject­ive re­port­ing, where we aim to ac­cur­ately, fairly and clearly tell what we see and hear, and put the news in­to con­text. 

To do that, es­pe­cially when you’re tack­ling a hot but­ton is­sue, takes plenty of work be­fore the first word is writ­ten. 

Bill and I had a second con­ver­sa­tion last Wed­nes­day about what he had learned so far by read­ing back­ground on pre­vi­ous guns shows, Pennsylvania’s laws on guns and the role pro- and anti-gun groups were play­ing in the de­bate.

Then on Thursday, we pulled our staff pho­to­graph­er, Maria Pouch­nikova, in­to the con­ver­sa­tion. We talked about how the re­port­ing and pho­to­graphy might un­fold. Would the news me­dia be al­lowed in­to the gun show? Would pat­rons talk to us on the re­cord? Would they al­low us to pho­to­graph them? Our goal al­ways is to print full names and faces in each story be­cause they add to the art­icle’s cred­ib­il­ity. 

We also wondered how many of our read­ers have at­ten­ded a gun show. My in­form­al poll of those in the news­room had found no one who had been to one. In ad­di­tion to telling me something about my fel­low journ­al­ists, it also told me something about what should be in­cluded in the story. It should be rich in de­scrip­tion be­cause one of the  roles a news­pa­per plays is to take read­ers to places they’ve nev­er been.

The con­ver­sa­tions helped me, as the ed­it­or, to con­sider the gun own­er­ship is­sue from all points of view. If I were a re­spons­ible gun own­er, who be­lieved I have been giv­en the right by the Found­ing Fath­ers to own a weapon, I could see how I would re­sent it if some people lumped me in with crazy people who take out their fur­ies on in­no­cent people. 

At the same time, as a par­ent and a grand­moth­er again on New Year’s Day, I be­lieve each life is pre­cious, and none more so than that of a child.

So, in­to this com­plex whirl of val­id ar­gu­ments and deep emo­tions, our re­port­er and pho­to­graph­er ven­tured. They had done their home­work, thought through their as­sign­ment and kept their minds open to whatever they would en­counter at the Ar­mory.

We present the res­ults of their fine work on this week’s front cov­er. 


I also want to call your at­ten­tion to Tom War­ing’s piece in the IN­sider on the passing of the torch at Green­man’s Deli in Lower May­fair. We learned of this story from a read­er who e-mailed us a tip. (The story has promp­ted more than one con­ver­sa­tion in the news­room about the fab­ulous ho­agies at Green­man’s and the need for a re­turn trip.) Please keep the news tips com­ing. You are the lifeblood of North­east Phil­adelphia, and we love hear­ing from you. ••

Reach ed­it­or Lil­lian Swan­son at 215-354-3030 or lswan­son@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at lswanson@bsmphilly.com.

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