Victim/Suspect shows the damage caused by reporting crime based only on police statements or sources. Do you know what your local news outlets’ policies are for publishing crime information? Use the the email template below to inquire about their policies and offer resources for organizations that don’t currently have an editorial process to address takedown requests.
Hi [INSERT NAME OF SPECIFIC CONTACT OR NEWS ORG HERE],
I hope this email finds you well. I am a community member and reader of NEWS OUTLET writing to inquire about your crime publication standards.
Recently, the VICTIM/SUSPECT documentary on Netflix highlighted the damage caused by reporting crime based on police statements or sources only. As Rachel de Leon from The Center for Investigative Reporting investigated cases where police criminally charged alleged sexual assault victims with false reporting, she found a second problem: Media coverage splashing their names and mugshots all over their community, parroting police statements that they lied about being sexually assaulted.
In the film, Dyanie Bermeo talks about being booked and released, falling asleep in her dorm room and waking up to a police Facebook post about her arrest. It said that she lied about being assaulted. Local media wrote stories about her arrest, and the criminal justice major’s life was forever changed. The next year, she was acquitted. De Leon found glaring holes in the police investigation, too. But the stories saying she lied were still online. Through the release of the documentary, two of those stories have been taken down. Dyanie’s Google results were dominated by an offense she was cleared of. Now, in most of the top results, she’s telling her own story.
Many news organizations have formed “takedown committees” for exactly this reason: Online stories about arrests live forever, even if the person is quietly exonerated. I am reaching out to ask if your organization has a committee or a process that reviews requests for taking down past crime stories?
[If you are referring to a specific story, add the link to the story, and the information available around this person’s acquittal or exoneration.]
If you do not, here are some resources that detail options on old crime stories:
- Unpublishing The News has sample policies and resources for rethinking your crime coverage or deciding how to handle unpublishing requests from the public.
- The Reynolds Journalism Institute has examined best practices for addressing unpublishing requests.
- News Leaders hosted a talk on unpublishing and its considerations and ramifications. Several editors and executive leaders discussed their organization’s evolving policies.
Thank you for your time and consideration,