From the Editor: Changing the status quo on crime reporting, introducing “Right to Be Forgotten”
Years ago, when print media was just that – print – news rarely lived on past a day or two.
In today’s age, that’s simply not the case. The Internet never forgets. That maxim is too often reinforced in our newsroom each time someone emails or calls with an appeal to have a name removed or a mug shot pulled from an old story that continues to follow them around as they try to move on with their lives.
For the past couple of months, a group of editors within Swift Communications have been having high-level discussions about “The Right to be Forgotten” — a movement that started in Europe and has begun to gain traction in newsrooms across the United States.
The focus of our discussions has centered on this question: How long should you be penalized for minor crimes you committed years ago?
Basically, should you have the right to be forgotten by Google when those old stories are blocking you from landing jobs? How long should you have to pay for an old mistake?
For some, those who commit crimes should be punished forever, but that’s on a broad spectrum. We’re not talking murderers, rapists, major drug dealers or sex offenders having their names removed.
As an editor, I don’t take it lightly that we’re potentially altering or rewriting a record. In journalism, we’re in the business of being fair, balanced and accurate and standing by the reporting we do. Reporting on crime, especially violent crimes and sexual assaults and rapes, is also an unfortunate daily reporting reality in most media markets.
With all that said, along with our duty to report the news to our readers, we can’t ignore this truth: While we live in the day-to-day world of reporting on our communities, one story deemed worthy for that day’s paper lives on in perpetuity for the charged and/or convicted long after that person has paid their debt to society.
So, it’s time to launch a new process across every newsroom in our company by which people can request to have their names removed from old stories. To do that, we’re leaning on a model that has been established at other news organizations for making those decisions.
That process starts with the recognition that, as journalists, we’re not in the position to judge who gets clemency and who doesn’t. We will rely on the courts and the legal process used to expunge – or clear – records.
People who have committed non-violent crimes and successfully petition the courts to permanently delete records of their criminal cases can submit a request for the removal of their name or photo from a specific story. By completing the form and providing proof of expungement, we will consider removal of a name and/or photo(s) from stories that appear on our websites.
Who doesn’t get clemency? Elected officials and other notable community leaders or public figures. They are held to a higher standard and should remain accountable for their actions.
The emphasis with this policy is on victimless crimes. We won’t be removing names from stories about violent crimes or sex crimes or major felony cases that drew community interest. Like most policies, this one is not absolute. As editor, I may decide to preserve a story, despite an appeal from someone who’s had their record expunged. We at the Craig Press still reserve the right to publish or not publish.
As the Craig Press launches this initiative locally, I’m certain that questions will arise that I simply won’t have answers to right away. There will be cases that will certainly test the spirit of this new policy and will spark heated conversations.
The Craig Press is committed to changing the status quo and taking a more humane, logical approach to how we cover crime and how we assess requests to rewrite the record.
To submit a request to have your name and/or photo removed from a story, please go to https://www.craigdailypress.com/news/crime-courts/
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