Wick Communications

Un-ringing the editorial bell

In Editing on July 31, 2015 at 7:57 am

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 10.58.20 AM

If you are like me, you are asked with some regularity to remove a news story or some online post in its entirety. And, if you are like me, you generally think about that for about .7 seconds and answer, “Hell no.”

I should clarify that I’m talking about your news organization posts, not comments or reader submissions, which are another thing entirely.

The reason is simple. News is often something someone doesn’t want published. Just because your ox is gored doesn’t mean you didn’t have it coming and it’s impossible to ungore an ox anyway. (Important safety note: Do not try to gore or ungore an actual ox.)

But what if some aspect of your story is wrong or could have been better? Should you really think about “unpublishing?”

Attorney and journalism guy Jonathan Peters devotes considerable navel-gazing to this question in the form of a single unpublished report originally filed by the Radio Television Digital News Association. I didn’t find the particulars particularly interesting for anyone outside of an academic environment. (They involve universities and their business units and whether they are subject to the Freedom of Information Act and the kerfuffle that ensued when the University of Michigan was called on noncompliance.) …

But it does raise a question: When would we unpublish – take down in its entirety – a news story?

For me, the answer is almost never. Can’t remember doing that, in fact. For one thing, even if you botched a story big time, taking it down merely poses more questions than it answers. At the very least, you need to explain why you took that extraordinary action in a space that makes sense. Simply redirecting that URL to your homepage does not accomplish that.

Much more often, you will be inclined to correct the story with a healthy editor’s note at the top describing the changes and why you are making them. Sometimes the answer is to complete the story with another that makes up for the holes in the last one. We make mistakes because we are human. We compound them when we fail to admit that fact.

Questions? Different approaches? Love to hear them.

Clay

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  1. I used to be an AP news writer. Sometimes breaking stories prove to be inaccurate, which is the nature of breaking stories (they are hard to verify in a short amount of time). If a story is inaccurate then it must be removed— a “bulletin kill,” as AP calls it. The bulletin advises all AP members to not publish the story.

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