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Offering To Revise Archives, Globe Wants To Make Sure Its Stories 'Not Holding People Back'

The print edition of The Boston Globe.
Liz West
Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/calliope
The print edition of The Boston Globe.

The reality of the internet is that when someone is charged for a crime, and a reporter writes about it, that story is forever online.

Now, as part of an effort to address racial justice and equity, The Boston Globe will take requests from people who have suffered as a result of those archived stories. Under what it's calling the Fresh Start initiative, the paper could update the articles, make them harder to find in a Google search, or even remove names.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: Who will be most affected by this initiative?

Jason Tuohey, managing editor of digital, The Boston Globe: Part of the answer is this is a new initiative and we're going to see. But we know that minor stories, minor embarrassments, minor crimes are things that can follow private citizens in search engines for the rest of their lives. And we're trying to take a very broad and open approach to this program. We want to be in a position where our journalism is not holding people back from moving on with their lives.

What do you see as minor crimes?

We debated this a lot, but we arrived at is that every appeal we get, we are going to take on a case-by-case basis. Everyone who's making an appeal is going to be able to tell a different story about how this is affecting their lives. And, rather than just draw a benchmark — like, you know, felonies are on one side, misdemeanors are on another — we're just going to look at each case on an individual basis and weigh that case on its own merits.

So this is part of a larger initiative, as I understand it, that could affect day-to-day changes in how The Globe approaches covering criminal justice in the future. What is that going to result in, do you think?

Well, I think like a lot of news organizations, we're looking inward and really thinking about how we cover criminal justice. I think the purpose of this Fresh Start initiative is to deal with these stories that are, in some cases, many years old and are affecting people personally. But in doing so, we're asking questions that can also be applied to our future coverage.

I think some specific things are: Is the newsworthiness of something that we might consider de-indexing from the search engine through the Fresh Start program — are stories like that going to be newsworthy in the future, knowing what we know now and knowing what we know to this initiative? You know, it's tough to say. Again, every story you deal with in journalism is on a case-by-case basis. But, yeah, it'll certainly weigh and be a factor in how we approach things in the future.

When you say de-indexing from a search engine, does that affect all instances of that story or will there be a way to go back and use The Globe as a record, as it has been used for 149 years?

Yes, I mean, what de-indexing will do is just make it so that when you Google someone's name, this isn't the first thing that pops up. I mean, a lot of the issues and appeals we've heard from people is, you know, "I had this minor thing in my past. It was years ago. I've tried to move on from my life. But whenever you search my name, this comes at the very top of the Google search."

And, you know, that affects employment and affects relationships and affects all aspects of your life. And that is really primarily the thing we're trying to solve for.

So how does someone who has been adversely affected by racial inequity, who may not be a reader of your paper, but whose name did appear in one of these stories — how are you reaching out to them to let them know about this opportunity?

You're absolutely right. I mean, we're mindful that this is a program that should be available to everyone, not just people who regularly read or subscribe to The Boston Globe. So we're taking steps to get the word out in the community.

I'll also say that through part of forming this initiative, our committee did do a lot of outreach and talked to a lot of different community leaders and just all sort of experts in various fields. We talked to these people for advice. We described what we were working on, what our intentions were — got a lot of good feedback and support from the community. And we're going to keep a sustained community outreach effort.

You know, this is not something where we can just launch it, put it on our web page and just sort of walk away and wait for things to happen. This is something that's going to have to be an ongoing conversation with our community.

I'm curious if this has been an issue that's come up in the past. I mean, you've been around for 149 years. Has the paper previously had requests for people to have things anonymized?

So we've definitely gotten requests like this in the past. And, you know, we would deal with them, but we would deal with them frequently on a one-off basis.

We've talked about this for a few years now, I think. Part of what the goal here is to create a real framework and standards in an approach and also [create] a home where people who want to make these appeals can go and feel like their voice is being heard. That, you know, your recourse for appeal is not just digging through The Boston Globe website and trying to find the email address for a managing editor.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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