News Leadership 3.0

October 29, 2009

When to “unpublish” news? Almost never

A project by the Associated Press Managing Editors looks at the long tail of news and how to handle requests to remove online content

One topic of discussion this morning at APME‘s annual conference was a study by Toronto Star Public Editor Kathy English about when to make news disappear if there are problems with the content or if someone in the story or affected by the story has a problem with it.

English’s findings:
- Public requests to remove content are becoming increasingly frequent and are likely to increase.
- Many news organizations have policies for when to “unpublish” but there is no industry standard.
- News organizations are highly reluctant to take down content unless there is a compelling legal reason to do so or someone’s life in endangered.
- Reports of minor criminal charges are a significant source of requests to unpublish. Since news organizations frequently do not follow up on such charges (reporting conviction or acquittal), it’s particularly difficult to turn down requests to remove the content. Gatehouse is experimenting with programming police blotter reports to “fall off” their sites six months after publication, English said.
- “Source remorse” (“I didn’t mean to say that.” “I wish I hadn’t said that.”) does not justify unpublishing content.
- Editors surveyed reported that even when they agree to take down stories they don’t really go away. Often the original story will pop up on search rather than an update that corrected misinformation.

Does your news organization deal with this problem? What are your best practices?

October 16, 2008

Goodbye ombudsman, hello network?

A traditional newspaper role
can be improved on the Web
How do you encourage users to evaluate your journalism?

I wrote recently that the gatekeeper role of traditional journalism was fading as news consumers find abundant sources of news. But news organizations (or others) could revive the role on the Web by becoming aggregators who point users to the best links and put them in context and point users to the worst links and debunk them.

That got me thinking about another traditional newsroom job— the ombudsman. Judging by the numbers, the role of ombudsman is in decline in the U.S. as well. Mark Potts at Recovering Journalist sums up the situation:

“Editor & Publisher picks up on a trend that’s an outgrowth of the overall cutbacks in newspapers: newsroom ombudsmen (and women) are a vanishing breed. At least 10 ombudsmen have lost their jobs in the past year to buyouts or layoffs at U.S. newspapers, leaving just 27 of the readers’ representatives in place, according to the Organization of News Ombudsmen (which also has international members, but at this rate may have trouble reaching a quorum at its next convention).

“As Gina Lubrano, executive secretary of the organization, points out to E&P, the readers’ representative position has been an easy target for cost-cutters for years. So it’s probably not surprising that we’re seeing a bunch of ombudsmen cuts amid the current avalanche of newspaper cutbacks.

“But I’d argue that these days, the ombudsman - like many things in the newspaper business - is something of an anachronism, anyway. It’s another thing that technology has rendered essentially irrelevant. There are just so many other ways for readers to talk back to newspapers these days.”

Let’s face it. There never were that many U.S. ombudsmen. In 1999, I counted fewer than 40 for this speech I gave in Istanbul. (Yes, I was an ombudsman once—Public Editor at The Oregonian in the late 1990’s.)

Still, the ombudsman position embodies an ideal that the press can operate transparently and be accountable for mistakes. If surveys are any indication, the U.S. press routinely fails to deliver on that promise.

Potts is right, the Web does offer readers lots of ways to talk back to news organizations. But the real question—before the Web and since—is whether news organizaions are listening and responding. The traditional ombudsman fields questions and complaints, offers an opinion and explains the organization’s playbook, but is not empowered to change it.

The Web will demand more from the organization, with or without the ombudsman. It is critical that newsrooms listen to and learn from readers (or whatever you call Jay Rosen’s “people formerly known as the audience”) who challenge not only their accuracy and credibility, but pose questions and complaints that suggest an entirely different master narrative. What might this look like?

Start with comments and blogs

Does your organization allow comments on news stories as well as blogs?
Does your organization solicit story ideas and leads in the comments (Example: How is the economic crisis affecting your family?)
Who monitors the comments for story leads? How does the newsroom follow up?
Who responds to complaints about the coverage?
Does a senior editor blog about news decisions and field questions? Every day?
How are comments about coverage shared with the staff? Do they have significant impact on the coverage? Why? Why not?

If your organization has attempted some of these practices, or found better ones for listening to users, please share your experience in the comments.








June 25, 2008

Does HelloKittyLove08 play in print?

Do unattributed online comments
belong in the print newspaper?

Pat Thornton has launched an interesting discussion over at about whether news organizations use online comments in print and whether they require strict attribution. Thornton’s survey of five news organizations indicates the old gold standard of strict attribution in print may be melting. He asks:

“Maybe we need to get used to online handles like HelloKittyLove08. Is that really that much less reliable than me telling a print reporter my name is John Smith when I’m interviewed at the gas station? Or does my name change the quality of my comment?”

I have railed against the unfairness of granting anonymity to the powerful (think Beltway) while publishing the names of more vulnerable people who wandered unintentionally onto the public record (think crime victims). So the idea that the Web may be leveling that playing field intrigues me (even though in my old-fashioned journalistic heart, I’d prefer strict attribution).

That said, I think use of non-attributed quotes may be OK when they are representative of the overall online response. An example might be people’s online comments about why they support one presidential candidate over another or what issues are most important to them as voters. Or comments about why a news organization’s coverage of a local issue misses the mark. In cases like these, the fact that many people express an opinion makes up for the lack of a named source.

I’m less enthusiastic about cheap shot comments - such as personal attacks on individual public figures - that may enliven the report but add little meaning to the conversation.

How does your organization deal with unattributed online comments in print? Please add your thoughts in comments below or visit to join the discussion.


June 16, 2008

Link: From hub to web

Will AP’s dispute with bloggers
boost local news Web traffic?

The Associated Press is facing criticism for its efforts to limit how much AP copy bloggers can quote. As The New York Times reports, the AP will “attempt to define clear standards as to how much of its articles and broadcasts bloggers and Web sites can excerpt without infringing on The A.P.‘s copyright.”
It’s a dispute that may not seem urgently relevant to local newsrooms, but Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 has a provocative post about how AP’s efforts may benefit the local news organizations who provide copy to the AP. That’s because, Karp predicts, bloggers will simply go around the AP to the organizations that produce the material and link directly to them. That, in turn, could increase their site traffic. Karp gives this example:

“Take the story of flooding in Iowa, for example. The AP is covering this story extensively, as you can see in this Google News search result. But local news media in Iowa is also covering the story extensively, as you can see in this search limited to Iowa sources—the story is happening in their own backyard, giving these local sources a unique perspective and knowledge.

“So if a blogger wanted to discuss the Iowa floods and needed a source to cite, they can easily find an original local source instead of the AP story. And they can think of the link and the traffic they send as a contribution to the local news outlet’s original reporting, particularly the local newspapers struggling with new economic realities.

Meanwhile, Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine ups the ante: He proposes that the Associated Press “immediately begin linking to all its sources for stories, especially to members’ original journalism.”

It’s an interesting example of how the Web really is a network of connections that doesn’t need a hub. And that’s a challenge for news organizations that succeeded for so long as hubs.

Page 1 of 2 pages  1 2 >


Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

Get in touch with Michele at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

More Leadership at KDMC:
Leadership Seminars | Annual Leadership Reports

Support is provided by:

John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

USC Annenberg School for Communication

McCormick Foundation

Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute


@michelemclellan on Twitter

Recent Entries





Tag Cloud