How should requests to ‘unpublish’ be handled?

Last summer, through a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation and the Associated Press Managing Editors Online Credibility Project, I researched and wrote a “white paper” on this issue “Top unopublish or not to unpublish” after surveying more than 110 North American news organizations on how they are handling requests to delete articles from news websites. I presented the paper at APME conference and will be doing a webinair on it through the Poynter Institute in May. It was also covered by Columbia Journalism Review.

The paper attempts to come up with “best practices” in handling these requests to remeove or amend onlione content. It starts with the premise that published content is a contract with our readers and ideally should not just disappear from websites. However, there are times when unpublishing might be warranted and this paper discusses what they might be as seen by news organizations. It also takes a strong stand on accuracy and transparency –we have responsibility to amend content to make it correct– and to tell readers when we have amended online content. It also provides a suggested script for excplaining to those who seek to have content removed why we don’t generally do so.

I’m happy to discuss my findings with anyone who might be interested.

A copy of the entire report can be found here [in PDF format].

See a Canadian Journalism Project report on the study.

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