Opinion | Can Journalism Wean Itself Off the Cheap Clicks of Bad Crime Coverage?

There is a right to be forgotten anchored in European law. Thanks to the First Amendment, the right to be forgotten is a voluntary cause in America. The rules vary, but all newspapers with the right to be forgotten allow individuals named in archived stories to request publication to have their names erased from the pieces. For some newspapers, if the editors find you, the story will be “hidden” from Google searches, or it may be updated to include exculpatory information that came after it was first published, or your name may be taken entirely from text painted.

Initiatives that have the right to be forgotten are not exactly memory holes. Editors don’t approve all requests. Violent crimes such as murder and assault and crimes against children are not screened, nor are most stories of corruption, celebrities or public officials. For most newspapers, only crime stories that are five years old or crimes that are ten years old are eligible. Perhaps the best thing about this movement is that it recognizes archived stories as live documents that are corrected and revised for accuracy. For too long crime reporters have stashed their faulty stories in their own memory hole. This wasn’t so important when the only usable newspaper archives were microfilmed and difficult to search. But as more publications put their archives online, the cost of searching the backs for dirt – or even dust – has dropped to near zero for people. By making the past so visible, Google has uncovered the weaknesses of the old copies. The press should embrace the chance to redress the wrong they do in old stories, and this movement is driving editors in that direction.

But can we justify rewriting newspaper archives because they are old? but exactly Stories that embarrass people? Exercising the right to be forgotten obviously helps those who wish to protect their past from scrutiny. But it does potential harm to job recruiters, loan officers, potential business associates, dates, and others who want an accurate picture of a person’s long-term reputation. As a Journalism Handbook Let’s put it a century ago, crime reporting is not just about fueling lustful interest. It warns the public about criminal activity and makes the community safer. It tells them how well the police are doing their job of keeping the peace. It helps in punishing and deterring crime. Aside from these justifications, if justice is really served by removing the names of crimes from old news reports, why restrict the cutting to the names of petitioners with the right to be forgotten? Why not proactively delete the name of everyone Perishings listed in five year old stories?

Deleting names from old stories is not a perfect solution. If I want to find a malicious story about you that Cleveland.com modified, I can still find the original version trapped in the super-amber of the internet archives. Wayback machinethat only preserves stories. All the right to be forgotten does is make it harder to find old, humiliating stories about you. They can’t really erase your past.

The call for revising old stories would not take place if the newspapers had not made their archives available to the Google search engine, which enabled mass research. If newspapers had withheld their archives from the Google crawler, people would have to search newspaper after newspaper by name. The Bangor Daily News seems to get that. If you request this news over an embarrassing story and it approves your request, it will not delete your name from the archives. It’ll just stop Google searches from seeing it. If you are determined to find an article that has been removed from Google’s crawler, you need to submit the request directly to the newspaper’s search box.

This is a better alternative to deleting names, but not perfect. Removing a story from Google Search makes it harder to prosecute the crime, victims, and alleged victims named in the story, and thereby reduce their competitive right to remember. A better way to break through Google’s influence on your reputation is to create useful content about your identity that would move an old story of your wrongdoing to the second page of a Google search. You can do it yourself or pay for a service to do it for you. If you think you are protecting your reputation, this is the most elegant means.

There is something strange about the right to be forgotten. Have crime news traditionally classified as the most popular topic in the press shortly after the weather. When the newspapers were fat and the editorial offices full, the criminal record filled the pages. After the great newspaper collapse in the late 1980s, the newsroom staff was cut, which meant fewer journalists covered the police and fewer columns were used to cover crimes, reducing the number of crimes reported. For the past two decades or more, national arrest rates for almost every category of administrative offense have been according to one scientific study. The chances of your name appearing in a crime story are further reduced because Violent crime is also falling. It is a little ironic that the call for forgetting old stories comes at a time when the economy has conspired to depopulate the newspapers of crime stories.

The right to be forgotten advocates have done us a great service, underscoring how good journalists are at posting news of arrests, but how miserable they are at documenting innocence, exoneration or dropped charges. But the solution to this journalistic shortcoming is not to hide the names of suspects from old stories or to hide them from Google. If arresting a suspect is sufficient to report in a newspaper, exonerating or dropping the charge should be newsworthy as well. Newspapers have no excuse for not updating old stories to reflect a suspect’s changed status. On the contrary, newspapers would become more accurate and useful if they regularly updated these stories in their archives. As a practical matter, editors could attach a “tickler” to arrest stories that will remind them monthly to add updates until the cases are resolved.

When it comes to hiding or covering up stories of confessions or convicts just because time has passed, we cannot afford to be so generous. We can blame the press for botched coverage of crimes in the past, most recently with the exploitative “Image galleries of mug shots“So many newspapers have piled up on the net and have now closed. Journalists can and should question police crime reports, which may have little resonance with the truth. But if a crime story is true and the reporting is fair, a newspaper doesn’t have to apologize for anything, even if the story continues to weigh on its subject for years after the fact. The newspaper’s responsibility to its readers comes first. We shouldn’t be so eager to ring the bell of history.


For information on competing rights to be forgotten, see The Washington Post‘s Erik Wemple and the NiemanLab. Make use of your right of reminder with email. use [email protected]. My Email notifications are pro-deletion. My Twitter feed can’t even spell “offense”. My The RSS feed is in jail awaiting trial because of the many crimes it has fully committed.

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