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How WCPO decides whether to remove content from its website

Posted: 5:52 AM, Dec 03, 2019
Updated: 2019-12-03 05:53:13-05
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Go into Google and type in your name.

What did you find?

For most of us, that search turned up some public records, a social media account, your LinkedIn profile.

But for some people living in our area, that search turns up an article on WCPO.com about one of the worst days of their lives — the day they were arrested.

If you were arrested more than 20 years ago, maybe a few people saw it in the newspaper or on TV. There was some instant shame. Some people might recognize you and remember what you were arrested for, but with time, you largely regained your anonymity. Now, anyone can Google your name and find a news article about that arrest.

In many of these incidents, the person who was arrested doesn’t even end up convicted. In some cases, the person is found not guilty. In others, the charges are dropped before the case goes to court.

Still, that arrest might be more than just a shameful moment. It could cause embarrassment for years. It could make it hard to find a job.

Now that news stories live on in this digital age, people who have been arrested are increasingly reaching out to news organizations to ask them to remove articles about these arrests. When I worked at a newspaper in Florida, we received several of these requests each week. Here at WCPO, we receive a few of them each month.

The question of whether to remove these articles puts news organizations in a challenging position. We are left balancing two key tenets of journalism:

  1. We are the writers of history, sharing the story of what happens in our community. These arrests did happen. Removing a record of them seems contrary to that goal.
  2. We also do not want to cause undue or unwarranted harm to people. We strive for fairness.

I feel for some of the people making these requests. One small mistake could haunt these people for the rest of their lives. In other cases, the person didn’t do anything wrong.

In court, people are innocent until proven guilty, but many employers don’t bring that principle to the hiring process.

At the same time, because we look at our reporting as a recording of events in our community, we generally do not remove articles, photos or pieces of articles. However, there are rare instances where we decide to remove content.

Here is how we handle these requests:

  • People can make requests by filling out the below form.
  • We will only remove these materials if the case has been resolved in the court system and all punishments or jail/prison time has been served.
  • People requesting removal must provide documentation that shows the status of the case.

Once those requests are made, we have an internal committee of managers who reviews those requests. I am a member of that committee.

Here are the criteria the committee uses to determine whether to remove an article, photo or part of an article:

  • Is our reporting accurate? If not, we will correct or remove the content.
  • What is the status of the case (are charges dropped, expunged)? The requesting party must provide documentation.
  • How long ago did this happen?
  • How serious was the crime?
  • Is the person requesting the victim or suspect? We are more likely to remove a victim's name if we published it.

Normally, we do not remove the content. In some cases, we will amend the story to note that charges were dropped or what verdict was reached in court. In other cases, we may do a follow up story and provide a link from the original story to the follow-up story.

These decisions are not easy.

Please feel free to reach out to me with questions.

Mike Canan is the Senior Director of Local Media Content at WCPO. Contact him at mike.canan@wcpo.com. Follow him on Twitter or Instagram at @Mike_Canan.