Even if he could, this is one story David McCumber won’t edit.
On Saturday morning, Sept. 24, McCumber, the editorial director of the Hearst Connecticut Media Group, was charged with driving under the influence in Wilton. He is due Oct. 4 in state Superior Court in Norwalk. And like any DUI arrest, the news appeared in police blotters in several media outlets.
The incident also drives home a complex question that many in McCumber's profession wrestle with every day: ?
“What happened to me has nothing to do with how I feel about this,” said McCumber, editor of The Advocate and Greenwich Time. “The Internet is a much different platform. But I don’t think we should make any move to close records or to direct legislation to purge records. That’s a slippery slope in the wrong direction.”
With more newspapers going online, information from police blotters and other digital records remain forever accessible in cyberspace—even after charges are dismissed. As such, there has been a push to pass legislation that would mandate the purging of digital arrest records after a certain time period.
While official records are expunged for certain first-time offenses, but not for convictions, said state Sen. Toni Boucher, a Republican representing Bethel, New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, Westport and Wilton in the 26th Senate District.
A DUI conviction goes on a Connecticut driving record and the conviction can remain active on someone’s record for up to 10 years. Connecticut doesn’t allow for the record to be expunged. However, if the charges are dismissed, or the person is acquitted, the records may be expunged.
As for how the press deals with dismissals and acquittals, that’s another matter, Boucher said.
“But how far do you go with that? It’s a very tough call and could easily be debated both ways,” Boucher said regarding redacting on-line newspaper articles that report criminal offenses.
As in Patch, Mark Sherman, a Stamford attorney, said cases dismissed in court shouldn’t stay in cyber-space. It stigmatizes people long after charges are dismissed. Sherman said the state should formulate legislation to require the purging of records.
This isn't a matter for the state, said Rich Hanley, associate professor of Journalism at Quinnipiac University.
"No way should the state seek to police that activity," Hanley said.
However, as a professsion, news organizations should formulate a policy that if they post an arrest they should post the court disposition.
"They have a professional obligation to do this. Each police blotter item should be followed by the court disposition of the case," Hanley said.
Yet far as Hanley knows, no media outlet—print or broadcast—does this.
McCumber frowns upon any push to purge the system of newspaper references. Instead, he said the conversation in his newsrooms isn’t about purging records. Rather, it’s about trying to find the most equitable solution.
“If somebody brings us evidence of a dismissal of charges we offer to write a small item attached to the original,” McCumber said. “But most people don’t want that because it points back to the original.”
Hanley said he dislikes this approach because it "puts the burden on the person thrust into the public eye."
That means job recruiters, university admissions officials can easily access information that otherwise could only be obtained through old fashion legwork.
“We owe people fairness,” he said, “but there is no perfect solution.”
Greenwich Time has a daily circulation of 7,838 and The Advocate has a daily circulation of 14,698.