Reviews | Can journalism get rid of the cheap clicks of bad crime coverage?
The right to be forgotten is enshrined in European law. Thanks to the First Amendment, the right to be forgotten is a voluntary thing in America. Rules vary, but all Right to Be Forgotten journals allow people named in archived articles to ask the publication to remove their names from the articles. In some newspapers, if the editors find it for you, the story will be “hidden” from Google searches, or it could be updated to incorporate exculpatory information that occurred after the initial publication, or your name could be completely deleted from text.
Right to be forgotten initiatives are not exactly memory lapses. Publishers do not approve all requests. Violent crimes, such as murder and assault, and crimes against children are not subject to review, nor are most stories about corruption, celebrities or public officials. In most newspapers, only stories of five-year-old or 10-year-old crimes are eligible. Perhaps the best thing about this movement is that it recognizes archived stories as living documents, subject to correction and revision for the sake of accuracy. For too long, criminal journalists have stored their flawed stories in a memory hole of their own. It didn’t matter much when the only usable newspaper archives were kept on microfilm and hard to find. But as more and more publications have brought their archives online, the cost of searching the back pages of dirt – or even dust – on people has dropped to zero. By making the past so visibly present, Google has highlighted the weakness of the old copy. The press should welcome the opportunity to right the wrongs it does in old stories, and this movement is pushing publishers in that direction.
But can we justify rewriting newspaper archives because the old but precise do the stories embarrass people? Exercising a right to be forgotten obviously helps those who wish to protect their past from scrutiny. But it inflicts potential damage on job recruiters, loan officers, potential business partners, dates, and others who want an accurate measure of someone’s long-term reputation. As a journalism textbook said a century ago, covering crime isn’t all about nurturing a lascivious interest. It warns the public of criminal activity, making the community safer. He informs them of how the police do their peacekeeping job. It contributes to the punishment and deterrence of crime. Putting these justifications aside, if justice is truly served by erasing the names of crimes from old reports, why limit excision to the names of applicants for the right to be forgotten? Why not proactively remove the name of all misdemeanor listed in five-year-old stories?
Removing names from old stories is not a perfect solution. If I want to find a damaging story about you that Cleveland.com has changed, I can still find the original version trapped in the super amber of the Internet Archives Wayback Machine, which only preserves the stories. All of the right to be forgotten measures only add a level of difficulty in finding old humiliating stories about you. They can’t really erase your past.
The call to revise old stories wouldn’t have happened if the newspapers hadn’t made their archives available to the Google search engine, which made mass searches possible. If the newspapers had hidden their archives from Google’s crawler, people would have had to search for names in one newspaper at a time. the Bangor Daily News seems to understand this. If you petition the Daily News about an embarrassing story and he approves your request, he will not remove your name from the archives. It will simply prevent Google search from seeing it. If you are determined to find a story that has been deleted from Google’s crawler, you should submit the query directly to the log search box.
It’s a better alternative to removing names, but it’s not perfect. Removing a story from Google search makes the crime, victims, and alleged victims named in the story more difficult to track, reducing their competing right to be remembered. A better way to break the hold Google has had on your reputation would be to create useful content about your identity that pushes an old story about your crime 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 your reputation is yours to protect, this is the most elegant remedy.
There is something bizarre about the right to be forgotten movement. Criminal news has traditionally been ranked as the most popular topic in the press, second only to the weather. In the days when newspapers were big and newsrooms full, blotting paper filled the pages. Following the great newspaper collapse of the late years, newsroom staff were downsized, meaning fewer reporters ended up reporting from the police blotter and fewer column inches have been devoted to crime coverage, thereby reducing reported crimes. Over the past two decades or more, national arrest rates for almost all crime categories have declined, according to a university study. The fact that violent crime is also on the decline further reduces the chances of your name ending up in a crime story. It’s slightly ironic that the call to forget old stories comes at a time when the economy has conspired to depopulate the newspapers with crime stories.
Right to be forgotten proponents have done us a great service by pointing out how good journalists are at publishing information about arrests, but how innocent they are, exonerating or dropping charges. . But the solution to this journalistic gap is not to erase the names of suspects from old stories or hide them from Google. If the arrest of a suspect is newsworthy enough to be reported in a newspaper, the exoneration or abandonment of charges should be equally newsworthy. Newspapers have no excuse not to update old stories to reflect a suspect’s change in status. On the contrary, newspapers would become more accurate and useful if they regularly updated these stories in their archives. In practice, editors could attach a “tickler” to arrest stories reminding them each month to add updates until cases are resolved.
As for hiding or obscuring the stories of confessions or convicts just because time has passed, we cannot afford to be so generous. We can call the press for sloppy coverage of crime in the past, most recently with the exploitative “passport photo galleries” so many newspapers tossed onto the web and have now closed. Journalists can and should question police reports of crimes, which may not sound like the truth. But if a crime story is true and the report is fair, a newspaper has no reason to apologize, even if the story hangs over its subject years after the fact. The newspaper’s responsibility to its readers comes first. We shouldn’t be in such a rush to ring the history bell.
For competition takes on the right to be forgotten, see The Washington Post‘s Erik Wemple and the NiemanLab. Exercise your right to be reminded by e-mail to [email protected]. My e-mail alerts are pro-deletion. My Twitter diet can’t even spell “misdemeanor”. My The RSS feed is in jail, awaiting trial for the many crimes it has totally committed.