Wednesday, March 31, 2010

AP, juveniles and privacy

AP has come out with a new style directive tonight:
Privacy: Do not identify juveniles (under 18) who are accused of crimes or are witnesses, or persons who say they have been sexually assaulted, even if other news media do so or police release names. Exceptions may occur when the public needs to be alerted, or if an adult victim of a sex assault publicly identifies himself or herself. When identification questions arise in any AP service, consult with the Standards Center.
It's worth reminding that the AP stylebook, while widely used by publishing operations nationwide, is first and foremost AP's internal stylebook, and some of the directives are designed for it and it alone. (I say that because invariably there is a stylebook pedant somewhere who points to something like this and says "the stylebook says it!" not to mention some of my students who struggle with balancing its guidance against reality.)

If the AP wants to do this, fine. You are under no obligation to do so. And my prediction? This will last oh, a week or so, before the wire starts leaking like a sieve. That line "even if other news media do so or police release names" is noble but in practicality untenable - or, as will likely happen, AP will be accused of hiding something or will find its members subbing the information in -- or it will just become irrelevant to large numbers of its members and consumers in such cases.

It's going to be especially difficult in states like South Carolina where we have a penchant for charging teenagers as young as 14 as adults for anything much above littering. Start making the exceptions to this "style" there and before long the wall is punched full of holes.

So, noble thoughts and effort, AP. Let's see how long it really lasts.

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At 8/12/10, 4:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a concerned citizen, how do we police the type of disregard for youthful offenses that some journalists manifest in their quest for the best story? I don't mean abridging First Amendment rights to journalistic integrity, but is there any August body that one could file a complaint with with regards to a journalists continued practice of releasing names of juvenile offenders?

At 8/12/10, 4:21 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

No, not really. The courts have pretty much held that restrictions on media such as this are prior restraint.

There used to be news councils in some states that would consider citizens' complaints about coverage, etc., but most of those have disbanded.


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