Archives pose digital dilemma

How should news organizations handle requests to alter their online archives? Most just say ‘no,’ according to a survey of newspaper executives, which found that 95% of respondents consider their print and digital archives to be a “historical record” that should not be changed. As one respondent put it:

There have been several cases and we have refused in each one, citing the historical nature of the archives. We cannot alter what we published. We can and do amend what we publish, but we won’t try to change what’s already there.

But the survey of Southern Newspaper Publishers Association members conducted in 2007 found that some requests might be considered favorably, depending on the circumstances. More than 20% of respondents said they would remove a photo of a child in a hypothetical case in which the mother said the girl was getting suggestive messages from an online predator. Researcher Doug Fisher says the study spotlights an important issue:

Of most concern, only a third of the editors and publishers said they had a policy for dealing with requests to remove material. Given how quickly things move in this digital age, if you don’t have one, it’s probably time to think about it.

The correction policies that do exist vary widely, according to the study.

Even if an error is substantiated, only 84% said they would publish a correction in the print newspaper. As for online corrections, 25% said they would put a correction in a separate area, 32% said they would correct the story but not put a note with it referencing the change, and 49% said they would correct it and leave a note. (The numbers add up to more than 100% because respondents could choose more than one option.)

The study did not include TV newsrooms, but previous research indicates that even more of them lack formal policies covering on air corrections. Fisher’s right: it’s high time every newsroom had a plan for handling corrections in both the legacy medium and online.


3 comments for “Archives pose digital dilemma

  1. January 2, 2008 at 5:56 pm

    Print and online media should abide by the same ethics. Once a story or photo is printed, it can’t be undone. My first thought is that it should be the same for electronic media, but now I’m not so sure. If we can fix a mistake, why leave it out there? That’s a tough question!

  2. dpotter
    January 3, 2008 at 10:04 am

    I agree that you can’t “undo” publication, but the stakes are higher now that inaccurate stories can live on forever and be found so easily by anyone using a search engine. That raises the potential for errors to cause people harm for years. Editors at the New York Times are wrestling with this dilemma, but as the paper’s public editor puts it: “The choices all seem fraught with pitfalls. You can’t accept someone’s word that an old article was wrong. What if that person who was charged with abusing a child really was guilty? Re-report every story challenged by someone? Impossible, said Jonathan Landman, the deputy managing editor in charge of the newsroom’s online operation: there’d be time for nothing else.” At this point, the Times is correcting even very old errors if a person can offer proof.

  3. Scott
    January 17, 2008 at 9:04 am

    Digitization of publications is the emerging trend and most of the news publishers are using this feature. There is a website which I’ve recently called provides the digitization services for all print publications. Publishers doesn’t have the digitization feature can utilize the services of

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