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?


One of the thornier issues in this regard is that in many cases the “gotcha” story shows up in search, while later acquittals are buried. I have a Knight News Challenge application to address this:

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

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