The Boston Globe announced its Fresh Start initiative Friday, which will allow individuals named in past articles to submit an appeal to update their information or even remove those articles from search results entirely. Submitted appeals will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, preventing any systemically unfair dismissals or approvals.
It’s no doubt an impressive undertaking, considering the resources it would require to reevaluate such articles, and the Globe has already put together a committee of 10 journalists to review these cases. Plus, the program makes the Globe one of the first U.S. news outlets to consider this type of “unpublishing”— an untraditional course of action.
But it’s also bittersweet, considering the damage years-old articles — especially from such a notable publication — could have already wrought.
In the age of social media, everything is preserved. Original communication about, or reposts of, articles outside of the Globe’s platform will remain up despite efforts to alter the stories.
In other ways as well, the Fresh Start initiative may not be sufficient.
On the initiative’s page, the Globe specifically mentions the impact of their reporting on “communities of color” as reason for looking back at past articles. However, it does not acknowledge why such groups may be more affected by the paper’s practices.
To truly hold itself accountable, the Globe also needs to address the over-policing and increased criminalization of people of color, which impacts its own overreporting of crimes in communities of color.
How will Globe journalists update their crime reporting and implement preventative measures? Hopefully, these good intentions and commitment to the cause mean that, down the line, there won’t be much need for the Fresh Start program.
Of course, when a policy is changed, revisiting an article might be a different story — what was considered a drug crime five years ago is drastically different from that of today. Look no further than the Globe’s recently established marijuana reporting section.
The newspaper maintains that reviewing cases and changing past articles will help inform reporting in the future. “If we change a story like this with the Fresh Start committee, why would we assign one like it next week?” said Jason Tuohey, digital managing editor, in a Globe article.
Still, the paper must make a concrete plan for future writing that does not rely upon the same case-by-case basis the appeals do. The scope of stories that might be successfully appealed, especially as they trickle in and are slowly assessed, probably won’t be as comprehensive as it needs to be.
In the article covering the initiative’s launch, the Globe also pointed out a potential drawback in having an application process at all. Though Fresh Start will be publicized through social media and community outreach, there is a possibility it won’t reach its targeted demographic as effectively as intended.
Missouri School of Journalism fellow Deborah Dwyer discussed how the white, middle-class and adult readership of the Globe may be more likely to learn about this opportunity and have their names removed from an article regarding a minor crime than a Black teenager who doesn’t subscribe to the Globe.
Furthermore, the initiative isn’t easily accessible on the Globe website. Currently, the news article written about Fresh Start is trending and visible from the home page. But on the menu and bottom of the website, there is no listing that allows readers to find the form.
Still, Fresh Start is a revolutionary step in the right direction, and other publications nationwide need to follow in the initiative’s footsteps. Prior to Fresh Start, The Plain Dealer in Cleveland announced a “Right to be Forgotten” program that allowed the removal of mugshots and names from stories involving minor offenses.
In order for it to be effective and accomplish its goals of negating long-lasting negative effects on people’s lives, other publications must also adopt the same policy. In the Globe’s instance, if publications that cover the same stories in the Boston area don’t revisit old, potentially harmful articles, an unfortunate individual’s reputation may be affected by one incident, tainting their Google searches and job hunts.
Considering the number of people this program has the potential to help, the Fresh Start ushers us into the new year on a hopeful note. While it remains to be seen whether The Boston Globe will follow through with reforming its system for criminal reporting, it has set a necessary precedent for reexamining established journalistic practices.