• August 1, 2021

Exclusive: Newspapers begin to put people before headlines

 Exclusive: Newspapers begin to put people before headlines

Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times Magazine reporter who created the vital 1619 Project, called the change “so important, and a practice that should be adopted by newsrooms across the country.”


The Associated Press writer David Bauder said in his article about the announcement: “Often, the AP will publish a minor story — say, about a person arrested for stripping naked and dancing drunkenly atop a bar — that will hold some brief interest regionally or even nationally and be forgotten the next day.

“But the name of the person arrested will live on forever online, even if the charges are dropped or the person is acquitted, said John Daniszewski, AP’s vice president for standards. And that can hurt someone’s ability to get a job, join a club or run for office years later.”

The Boston Globe previously announced a similar decision to allow people featured in stories to appeal to have the content removed, in what the Globe dubbed a “Fresh Start” initiative. The newspaper posted a form online with this explainer:

“Following the nationwide reckoning on racial justice, the Globe is looking inward at its own practices and how they have affected communities of color. As we update how we cover the news, we are also working to better understand how some stories can have a lasting negative impact on someone’s ability to move forward with their lives.

Going forward, the Globe will allow all people to appeal their presence in older stories published on our websites. We’ll consider each case individually and, if warranted, take steps to update the story and protect the privacy of the individual. These steps may include republishing the story with new information or removing the story from Google searches. All final decisions will ultimately come down to the Globe’s editorial discretion.

We are not in the business of rewriting the past, but we don’t want to stand in the way of a regular person’s ability to craft their future. If you’re looking for a Fresh Start, please fill out the form below. We’ll be in touch.”

Nicholas Goldberg, an associate editor and columnist for the Los Angeles Times, offered a differing opinion in an op-ed on Feb. 7. He told a heartbreaking story about a woman who had been charged with prostitution as a teen and was calling him years later to have the story about her arrest removed so her daughter and potential employers couldn’t access it. “I felt terrible,” Goldberg wrote. “The crime she was accused of didn’t seem to me like something that should haunt a person forever.” He later went on to list all the reasons why newspapers should allow crimes to haunt people forever. 

“Unpublishing is a violation of our obligation to readers, and to transparency,” he said. “And it doesn’t solve the underlying problem, which is society’s unforgiving attitude. It merely makes information in the public record less accessible.

“And where does such revisionism end? Once you’re changing old stories, surely there will be a temptation to go beyond crime stories, to protect people from other negative coverage they find embarrassing.”

The Globe dedicated a section on its “Fresh Start” page to the question of “erasing history,” and it suggests exactly the kind of bold empathy we should all strive to exhibit. “We’re considering these on a case-by-case basis,” the newspaper said, “but we think the value of giving someone a fresh start often outweighs the historic value of keeping a story widely accessible long after an incident occurred. People’s lives aren’t static, they’re dynamic.”

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Reporters Team

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