By DAVID BAUDER
AP Media Editor
NEW YORK – The Associated Press said on Tuesday it would no longer publish the names of those accused of petty crimes over fears such stories could have long and damaging afterlife on the internet, which can make it difficult for individuals to continue with their lives.
In doing so, one of the world’s largest news gathering organizations embarked on a debate on an issue that was not of great concern before the rise of search engines, when finding information about people. often required going through yellowed newspaper clippings.
Often times, the PA will publish a minor story – say, about someone arrested for undressing and dancing while intoxicated on top of a bar – that will have brief regional or even national interest and will be forgotten the next day.
But the name of the arrested person will live online forever, even if the charges are dropped or the person acquitted, said John Daniszewski, AP’s vice president of standards. And it can interfere with someone’s ability to find a job, join a club, or run for office years later.
The AP, in a directive sent to its reporters across the country, said it will no longer name suspects or pass on photographs of them in short stories about petty crimes when there is little chance. that the organization covers the case beyond the initial arrest.
The identity of the person is generally not newsworthy beyond local communities, Daniszewski said.
The AP said it also would not link to a local newspaper or broadcast articles about such incidents where the name or photo of the person arrested could be used. The PA will also not make any fuss primarily motivated by particularly embarrassing passport photos.
The policy will not apply to serious crimes, such as those involving violence or abuse of public trust, or cases of a fugitive on the run.
“As a leader in the information industry, AP making this change is going to have a ripple effect and will inspire some organizations that don’t have this on their radar right now to stop and take a look. to these practices, ”said Deborah Dwyer. , a doctoral student who studies the question and runs the unpublishingthenews.com site.
Several organizations are already doing this, driven in part by requests from people whose time in the news has been perpetuated via the Internet.
The Boston Globe, for example, earlier this year announced an appeals process where it would consider removing old stories from its archives on a case-by-case basis. He linked his announcement to a racially-driven policy review.
“We’re not looking to rewrite the past, but we don’t want to hamper the ability of an ordinary person to shape their future,” The Globe said in announcing the effort.
In response, Los Angeles Times columnist Nicholas Goldberg wrote in February that news agencies “shouldn’t be laughing at the story.”
“Trying to rewrite the past, or even trying to hide what has already been reported, is almost always a mistake,” he wrote.
The PA’s policy change has also sparked a heated debate on social media.
In a 2018 survey conducted by Dwyer, around 80% of news agencies had a policy regarding removing stories from the archives, up from less than five years earlier. But in some cases, policies aren’t written down, aren’t discussed in public, or even made public in their own newsrooms, Dwyer said.
The PA has resisted efforts to suppress the stories altogether. It has long been a policy to clarify or update even very old stories with news of an acquittal, for example, “but a story that is true and accurate the day we wrote it, we would consider that. as a sacrosanct, ”Daniszewski said. “We are not going to rewrite history.”
Dwyer said his research revealed that a majority of Americans believe they have the right to ask news agencies to remove articles from the archives and would expect the articles to be updated if the charges were abandoned. Yet, at the same time, many people believe that an organization’s records would be less reliable if they allowed their stories to be erased.