Following the nationwide reckoning on racial justice, the Globe is looking inward at the impact its coverage has had on communities of color. As we are updating 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.
Globe journalism was never meant to be a permanent obstacle to someone’s success, with the worst decisions and moments in regular people’s lives accessible by a few keystrokes for the rest of time. This initiative aims to empower all people who want to have a fresh start. We will consider updating past coverage with new information and changing how accessible stories are in search engines.
For example: Were you arrested for vandalism but never charged? Or did a jury acquit you? Or was the crime a long time ago?
We are not in the business of rewriting the past, but we want to update the record and not stand in the way of a regular person’s ability to craft their future. Finding that balance will be a complicated endeavor.
We will consider all cases but act only on some. We will have a particularly high standard for cases involving public figures or serious crimes.
The Fresh Start initiative is new for us, and we expect it to evolve with regular assessments and tweaks along the way. We welcome public comments and concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can find our Fresh Start initiative application form here. Below are explanations of various questions you may have about this initiative.
What actions does this initiative involve? Will you delete stories? Will you remove names? What about Google?
We have a number of options, including updating a story with new information and removing a story from search engine results. We consider every case on its own merits, and take the action appropriate based on the individual circumstances.
Are you concerned about erasing history?
We’re considering these on a case-by-case basis 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.
Is this for Boston.com too?
What kinds of stories will you consider?
We will consider requests involving all crimes, but anticipate acting mostly on stories involving minor crimes and those that happened farther in the past. We will prioritize cases that are a year or more old, but if they are resolved earlier than that, we will consider them on a case-by-case basis.
We will also consider requests about stories and photos that involve potentially embarrassing, noncriminal behavior.
Are there any crimes or requests that you will NOT consider?
We consider all requests, but those from people who have been found guilty of the most serious and heinous crimes are unlikely to be acted on. Final decisions will ultimately come down to the Globe’s editorial discretion.
We will hold public figures and people in positions of public trust to a higher standard of scrutiny.
How did you determine your standard for eligible crimes?
We weighed guidance from groups that work in criminal justice, victims’ rights, and recidivism. We also consulted with other news organizations that have attempted similar initiatives.
What if I am featured in a story that is not about a crime, but is embarrassing?
We will consider all requests.
What if I am featured in a photograph, but not in the text of a story?
We will consider all requests.
Who can apply? And do I need a lawyer to complete this process?
Anyone who was referenced in a Globe story can apply. You don’t need a lawyer. But you can’t apply for someone else.
What if I don’t speak English?
We will consider all requests, including those submitted in languages other than English.
How long will your process take?
We handle requests as quickly and efficiently as we can. Our committee meets monthly, and we prioritize older stories.
What steps will you take when considering a case?
We will run a background check on all applicants and meet once every month to discuss cases. We may ask applicants for further information about their cases if we deem that necessary.
What factors will you consider when weighing a case?
We consider a number of factors in determining how to handle a request, including: The severity of a crime or incident; whether there is a pattern of incidents; how long ago the story was published; how old the person was at the time of the incident; whether the person involved was in a position of public trust; and the value of keeping the information public.
Who’s on the committee?
The committee that drafted these guidelines is made up of journalists who serve in several roles and work in different departments across the newsroom.
Why are you doing this instead of changing how you cover crime?
We see this as part of our effort to change our approach to covering criminal justice. This initiative will inform our work going forward and represents our commitment to modern, moral journalism.
The movement for racial justice has touched every part of society, including our newsroom, and we see this as a step we can take to improve what we do.
Is there a timeframe a case has to fall into to be eligible?
Cases farther in the past are more likely to be considered.
I want to apply but do not know how to access my court records. How can I do that?
We encourage you to call the clerk in the jurisdiction where your case was heard. We will also seek records for your case, if they are publicly available.
What is required for application?
Fill out the form provided on our website. Please do not e-mail your application to the initiative e-mail address or to individual employees of The Boston Globe.
If I was convicted and incarcerated, do I qualify for this program?
We will consider your application but may not act on it immediately, depending on how recently you were incarcerated.
Do you take guilt into account?
If I’ve been charged with multiple crimes will that affect my eligibility?
Yes, it may, but it does not disqualify you from applying.