She says the consensus of her report is that you need to inform readers if you’re going to remove or unpublish information from a specific article. One section of her report spells it out very clearly:
Though we should resist unpublishing, we have a journalistic responsibility to ensure the ongoing accuracy of content published online. In some cases, further reporting may be necessary to verify new information, especially in cases involving charges against individuals named in the news. If we err, or if new relevant facts emerge, we should correct and update online articles. Transparency with our readers demands that we indicate that an article has been edited to correct or update.
Margaret Holt, the senior editor of standards at the Chicago Tribune, is quoted in the report as saying that, “Our starting point is that we don’t unpublish but we are open to considering new information and adding that online.”
Greg Brock , who handles corrections for The New York Times, and English both agree with that approach: you don’t simply delete information from the archives. Rather, you offer updates and corrections when warranted.
But from there, the debate about when, how and which information to remove gets very tricky. For example, here’s a section of the poll results from English’s report:
Under what circumstances might a news organization agree to a public request to unpublish?
• The content is viewed as inaccurate or unfair 67%
• Inflammatory or defamatory language or comments 48.7%
• Source rethinks what they want wider audience to know about them 0.0%
• The article contains outdated information that while accurate could be damaging to the sourceʼs reputation in the community. 20.9%
• Concerns that the post contains private information 10.4%
• Content is not properly attributed or sourced 32.2%
• Content deals with a minor or other protected person 33.9%
• Concerns that a law enforcement investigation could be compromised 23.5%
• Other 39.1%
News organizations must strive to develop clear and effective policies for managing and updating their archives. This will enable them to deal quickly and fairly with any requests. Certainly, some of these requests will be a difficult call—as English says, she doesn’t want to be seen as the in-house censor—but othes will be surprisingly easy. For example, an editor at the Dayton Daily shared one request that prompted a no-brainer response.
“A woman accidentally uploaded a nude picture of herself when she submitted photos to an online gallery,” the editor told English. “She asked that we take it down and we did.”
Correction of the Week
“A headline on a U.S. News article Friday incorrectly implied that Northwestern University journalism professor David Protess has been accused of improprieties related to his program’s investigative projects, which have helped free wrongly imprisoned inmates. In fact, a filing by Illinois prosecutors contained allegations that his students had paid two informants. The students deny the claims.” — The Wall Street Journal