Unpublishing - some thoughts

Unpublishing - some thoughts

"We may need a better term for what we currently refer to as unpublishing", writes Ph.D candidate and Reynolds Journalism Institute Fellow Deborah Dwyer.

Dwyer explains the term, coined in the early 2000s when newspapers were beginning to receive requests for stories to be removed from their websites, describes a wide range of possible actions which a publication can take in response to a request. Each has its merits and drawbacks.

Some of my early blog-style posts from over a decade ago includes names. They are factual and do not require correction, do they need to remain? Over the past few years, one person has specifically contacted me to request removal of their name and others have send me notes emphasizing they are providing further information I should consider if the posts remain.

For the one person who requested removal, it was because the matter showed up when they were applying for jobs. I responded, this was only about five years after the content was published, the post was factual and I would not remove it. (The content involved them acting in bad faith and doing something they should've known better than to have done. I'm not going into specifics because I'm not looking to dredge up the past, this is an illustrative example)

They learned to explain they made a mistake, and they've learned from it. Today, they are successful in their career, and I doubt the issue matters much to them anyway.

I could edit the post to remove their name, and the information would carry the same relevance. The people involved in the matter are not longer as relevant, their positions at the time will now suffice.  I thought about making an edit this morning. However, the content will remain on the Maclean's website as I wrote this particular post while working for that publication.

Dwyer notes a few unintended consequences of unpublishing. Among them, "Updates can, however, create a new timestamp, which can re-up the content in a Google search—an unintended consequence not always considered by the requestor".

Delisting, instructing search engines to not include some content, is a newer method of addressing a concern more common to American publications - old stories about local crime and arrests. Arrest records, and mug shots, are public records in the US. Many news websites published extensive "police blotters" and arrest photo galleries for the first two decades of newspaper websites.

Unpublishing The News is a project I will be watching.