“Our journalism was never meant to be a permanent obstacle to anyone’s future, especially not in cases where a minor crime, transgression, or embarrassing moment follows them forever to the top of a search result.” Google, ”said Jason Tuohey, editor-in-chief of The Globe. for digital.
The initiative is the result of a re-examination in The Globe and many other newsrooms of how they cover race, sparked by last year’s nationwide protests against the murder of George Floyd by police. Journalists have increasingly questioned their reliance on the police as their primary source after Floyd’s death. A recording of his murder by a spectator contradicts the initial police account.
In recent months, the Kansas City Star and Los Angeles Times have apologized for covering local communities of color over the years, and both papers have published articles explaining how their reporting contributes to racial inequality. In Philadelphia, 40 community organizations called on the Philadelphia Inquirer to change its crime reporting process and allow people named in older crime stories to appeal to be removed from the newspaper’s website.
The idea of removing names – not to mention an entire story – from a newspaper’s digital archive has traditionally been anathema to many journalists. “For a long time, the instinct was, ‘No, we’re not even going to think about it. We seek the truth and report it and we don’t go back and deport it, ”said Kathleen Culver, James E. Burgess Chair in Ethics of Journalism at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
But Culver argued that changing or delisting old stories was clearly the responsibility of journalists to hold powerful institutions accountable. “You don’t want to extend the harms of an unfair system by making your coverage unfair,” she said.
Other editorial staff have embarked on the same path.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is considering requests to remove or update online content from people whose files have been closed to the public under a 2013 state law as part of an effort to facilitate delisting.
In Cleveland, the Plain Dealer started its right to be forgotten process two years ago to allow people to delete or edit their old stories and photos. Editor-in-chief Chris Quinn remembers receiving notes from people who had used drugs when their photos were taken – and subsequently posted as a constant reminder of that low point in their lives. “Some work as addiction counselors, and it still exists,” he said. “It’s mortifying for them.
The Plain Dealer now tries to remove problematic content before someone even asks them do it. Google gave the newspaper a $ 200,000 grant in December to develop digital tools to help them identify these stories and photos.
The Globe has said it will not accept petitions from companies, government agencies or lawyers on behalf of clients for its Fresh Start program. And he plans to get the word out through community outreach. “We’re very aware that some of the people we want to reach aren’t necessarily regular Globe readers, so we’re giving people the opportunity to ask questions and submit comments,” said Tuohey.
A committee of 10 Globe journalists – who consulted with victim advocates, ethics experts and formerly incarcerated people to design the program – will review petitions on past topics. They will look at all cases but apply a much higher standard for those involving public figures.
However, righting the wrongs of the past can be complicated. For example, should a newsroom change its coverage of a police officer who has been charged with excessive use of force but who has subsequently been acquitted?
And then there’s the time and effort it takes to sift through decades-old archives and essentially re-report problematic stories. “All of the newsrooms that do this are worried about how this will be a zero resource,” Quinn said.
But many reporters say it is a dignified and late enterprise.
“It’s really about examining [journalism] conventions, and see when these are just conventions that have been thoughtlessly adopted and are really harmful, and when they convey relevant and useful information, ”said Susan Chira, editor-in-chief of the Marshall Project, which covers the system of criminal justice. “It’s a welcome re-examination.”