The Sun-Times introduces a ‘right to be forgotten’ policy

Jennifer Kho, the Sun-Times’ executive editor, explains how people we’ve written about can seek a review and possibly have stories removed from internet searches.

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Illustration of a collage of news stories and an eraser.

Bryan Barker / Sun-Times

The woman whose arrest was dismissed years ago but who still gets questioned about it regularly at work and in her community. The man who was acquitted but suspects the article about his arrest is keeping him from getting a job. The person whose childhood misstep still haunts their reputation today as an adult.

These are a few of the community members who have asked us to de-index, or remove, past Chicago Sun-Times news stories from search engines such as Google so the articles no longer appear in internet searches for their names.

With social media and the internet, it’s so much easier to quickly find years- or even decades-old articles. That means some of the people we’ve covered continue to live with the negative impact of being arrested or accused of a crime, even if they didn’t do it.

We also know Chicago has a history of unjust arrests. Those arrests are often tossed out in court, but articles about them remain available to the public. Some of these stories can have a lasting negative impact on one’s ability to move forward in life — sometimes leading to unsteady employment, a lack of housing access or other issues that can impede these individuals’ ability to thrive — and they disproportionately affect communities of color. From studies about crime coverage nationally, we know that Black people are overrepresented in these stories compared to their proportion of arrests.

At the Sun-Times, we don’t think it’s fair for stories about arrests to follow people around forever if they were never convicted or if charges were dropped or expunged. In recognition of the unintended harm that some of our work has caused, we want to be intentional about reviewing these articles and considering whether they should remain part of the searchable internet record.

So today we are launching a new “right to be forgotten” policy to make it easier for people we’ve written about to request a review. In the past, the Chicago Sun-Times’ executive editor has handled these requests on a case-by-case basis. Moving forward, our goal is to partner with the community to help solve equity problems we are part of, rather than only reporting on them. To do this well, there needs to be a simple, clear and fair process that allows anyone to submit a request and receive a response in a timely manner.

In launching the new policy, we’re proud to join the growing ranks of other newspapers — including the Boston Globe, the Plain Dealer in Cleveland and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution — that provide opportunities for people to appeal to de-index past stories published online.

If you are the subject of a past article about an arrest or accusation that later was disproved, dismissed or expunged, you can fill out this form. You must include contact information, a link or other information identifying the article, a reason for your request and documentation about what happened with any charges or allegations. Requests should be made directly by the person affected by our coverage.

We will review these requests monthly and convene a quarterly panel to review more complicated requests that might fall outside the defined policy. We will consider whether the harm to the requester outweighs the public benefit of keeping the coverage on search engines.

Who’s eligible to apply?

  • Juvenile offenders
  • Nonviolent criminal offenders
  • People named in stories about crimes for which charges were dropped, dismissed, reversed or expunged
  • Those named in stories about arrests that did not lead to conviction
  • Domestic violence victims

Who’s ineligible to apply?

  • Current or past elected or public officials
  • People seeking public office
  • People convicted of most felonies or violent crimes

If you have questions about our new policy, you can email Sun-Times Deputy Managing Editor Norm Parish at nparish@suntimes.com.

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