Newspaper Offers to Erase Embarrassing Pasts

Boston Globe to review stories on minor crimes that live online forever
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 22, 2021 5:35 PM CST
Newspaper to Take Appeals on Old Coverage
A reader buys a copy of the Boston Globe in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Mass., in 2009.   (AP Photo/Josh Reynolds)

The Boston Globe has decided to let people it has covered in the past request a review of stories about them—with an eye toward possibly updating the stories, taking the names out, or ensuring they no longer show up in Google search results. Other publications have reconsidered old coverage, given the effect that committing minor crimes, or just being embarrassed, can have on someone's life when the information lives on in digital archives forever, the Globe reports. "It was never our intent to have a short and relatively inconsequential Globe story affect the futures of the ordinary people who might be the subjects,” said Brian McGrory, the paper's editor. "Our sense, given the criminal justice system, is that this has had a disproportionate impact on people of color. The idea behind the program is to start addressing it."

The newspaper is reviewing the effects on communities of color of its criminal justice coverage in general, and the "Fresh Start" experiment is part of that. The Globe said it will be more reluctant to alter coverage of major crimes or public figures. A committee of 10 employees will consider cases individually; requests from organizations won't be accepted. A fellow at the Missouri School of Journalism raised a couple of concerns about changing past coverage. "I caution people that just because it's old doesn’t mean it's not valuable," Deborah Dwyer said. She cited possibly inequity on who applies for the review, per the Globe, saying a white lawyer might be more likely to contact the paper than a Black teenager who committed the same crime but may not read the Globe. "Is it fair that only the people who raise their hand get a fresh start?" she asked. (Read more Boston Globe stories.)

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