'Unpublishing' the News

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According to Google, the word “unpublish” is defined as a verb that means “to make content that has previously been published online unavailable to the public. As in “The magazine first amended and then unpublished the article.”

Years ago, publishers did not face problems of information permanence when a daily printed product was quickly discarded the next day. But more and more news publishers today are receiving requests from individuals to remove, obscure or significantly alter once-accurate information published about them in the past. In some cases, these requests are happening many years after a story was initially published online.

A recent survey also suggests that more than 80 percent of North American news publishers believe all news organizations should follow a set of standard guidelines about what information can and cannot be removed from their archives. But are such standards being compiled?

Exploring this issue is Deborah Dwyer, Ph.D. candidate at UNC Chapel Hill Hussman School of Journalism and Media who is working on a current initiative to create a single repository of newsroom unpublishing policies. Her latest project is a website: unpublishingthenews.com, described as “a place on the web where news leaders and advocates can hash out the conundrum of “unpublishing” (in its broader context).”  Here any editor or journalism can find a blog centering on the issue, along with resources that provide a growing list of policies and best practices, research, codes of ethics and more.

In this segment of “E&P REPORTS,” publisher Mike Blinder speaks with Dwyer about her research and work on compiling best practices of “unpublishing” the news. Also appearing is one of the initiative’s advisors Kathy English, chair of the Canadian Journalism Foundation.

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