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Barbara Lombardo of Saratoga Springs, NY, is a journalism adjunct at University at Albany and retired executive editor of The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News. Follow her on Twitter @Barb_Lombardo.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Online, forever? Publishing arrests on the Internet

The parent of a 25-year-old who had been arrested in Saratoga County earlier this year for possession of marijuana called me this week to ask about taking the posting off The Saratogian website.

It was, after all, a relatively minor crime. And the case has been adjourned in contemplation of dismissal -- ACOD in court jargon -- meaning that if he stays out of trouble for six months, the charge will be dismissed.

So what should we do? My inclination is to add an editor's note updating the story with the ACOD and then, should the charge ultimately be dismissed, update the story again saying so. This is how we've handled it when a similar issue occurred over the past few months. That's what I did in this case.

Another option would be to completely remove the story from the website upon dismissal of the charge. But isn't that like rewriting history? Isn't the story still floating out there in cyberspace, without the updated news? So wouldn't it be a disservice to not provide the Internet with the updated, correct information.

The father's major concern was that when you google marijuana and his son's name, the arrest pops up, and that when potential employers see the post they will automatically rule out his application. In bigger cities, such arrests wouldn't make the papers, in print or online. Not so in the Capital District.

I'd be interested in hearing from employers if that's really the case. Are you googling applicants? How do you weigh what you find?

Meanwhile, for what it's worth, parents ought to send this file to any kids out there -- almost grown, fully grown, and old enough to know better -- for a warning about the repercussions of getting into trouble with law, even for a relatively minor infraction, in the Internet age.


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