AP notified journalists it’s changing how it reports brief stories involving suspects in minor crimes.
This week, the news agency said it:
* Will stop naming the suspects in minor crime stories that it’s unlikely to follow up on after the initial arrest.
* Will not link from AP minor crime stories to other stories that name the suspect.
* Will not move mugshots for these stories.
* Will stop publishing stories driven by a particularly embarrassing mugshot.
* Won’t publish mugshots solely because of the appearance of the accused.
While these standards apply to minor crimes, they won’t apply in cases where there are active searches for fugitives, the announcement said.
Why AP Is Making Changes
Bottom line, AP is making the changes for the sake of “fairness,” according to John Daniszewski, AP’s VP for standards.
In stories covering significant crimes, such as murder, AP will continue naming the suspects because those cases are likely to get additional coverage.
So, the public has the ability to know how the story ends.
However, when an organization with the reach and clout of AP does a one-off report on suspects in minor crimes, no one knows “if the charges were later dropped or reduced, as they often are, or if the suspect was later acquitted,” explained Daniszewski.
And that can make it difficult for the suspects to later gain employment or just move on in their lives, he added.
For example, the AP will often publish a minor story — say, about a person arrested for stripping naked and dancing drunkenly atop a bar. That headline is one that can grab attention regionally or nationally, but it’ll be forgotten the next day.
Meanwhile, the person’s name will live on forever online, which can hurt the individual’s ability to get a job, join a club or run for office years later, AP writer David Bauer explained in an article after the announcement.
In fact, when it comes to local stories AP should start by considering whether minor crimes are worthy of the news agency reporting at all and whether the stories are indeed useful to AP members and customers, Daniszewski also said.
All of this sounds as if the AP is raising the bar for covering local stories.
Based on the new directive, it seems the news agency is going to take a more critical look at its motives for covering local stories that clearly have a short shelflife.
It also seems that AP realizes although it’s one of the largest news organizations in the world, it hasn’t risen above the trend of publishing sensationalist stories that provide an immediate blip in traffic but cause long-term harm for the people involved.
But why now?
Although AP explained the reason for the change, the announcement didn’t provide any context about the timing.