The Boston Globe has joined a handful of newsrooms around the country doing something once unthinkable: changing old articles because they are ruining a person’s life. The newspaper on Friday launched its Fresh Start initiative, which allows people to petition to have information about them removed from or added to old stories, to have their names anonymized, or to have the stories delisted from Google searches.
The Globe will prioritize stories involving minor crimes and those from long ago, but will also consider ones about “embarrassing” noncriminal behavior. The initiative comes out of a reexamination at the Globe and many other newsrooms about how they cover race, prompted by last year’s nationwide protests over the policy killing of George Floyd. Journalists have increasingly questioned their reliance on police as primary sources after Floyd’s death. A recording of his killing by a bystander contradicted the initial police account. In the past few months, the Kansas City Star and the Los Angeles Times have apologized for how they covered local communities of color over the years, and both newspapers have published pieces explaining how their reporting contributed to racial inequities. In Philadelphia, 40 community organizations petitioned the Philadelphia Inquirer to change its crime reporting process and allow people named in older crime stories to appeal to have them removed from the paper’s website.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution considers requests to remove or update online content from people whose records have been closed to the public under a 2013 state law as part of an effort to make expungement easier. The Cleveland Plain Dealer launched its Right to Be Forgotten process two years ago as a way for people to have old stories and mug shots removed or amended. The Plain Dealer is now trying to remove problematic content even before someone petitions them to do so. Google awarded the paper a $200,000 grant in December to develop digital tools to help them identify those stories and photos.