The Joe Rogan Rule of online unpublishing

Posted: July 27th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Internet, journalism | Tags: , , , | View Comments

The caller on the other end of the line is angry, to put it mildly.

After months on the job hunt, he’s finally found something to fit his skillset. But after a few promising e-mails and a great phone interview, his potential employer suddenly informed him he was no longer in the running.

And he’s sure it’s your fault. Well, it’s really Google fault. Actually, it’s the fault of the guy who rear-ended him back in 2002, triggering a rage so intense the whole incident ended in an aggravated assault charge that was eventually dropped because it was all just a big misunderstanding.

Anyway, the point is you should take down that online story on the whole thing, because searching his name gives the impression that he deals with stress and confrontation by applying a tire iron to a windshield — which is totally not the case. And nobody wants to get lawyers involved, right?

Conversations like these are familiar to Web producers and online editors, who are working to develop new strategies for dealing with very real concerns from the subjects of old stories.

It’s a complicated issue that’s typically determined on a case-by-case basis. But editors from a variety of media do share some common techniques, from unpublishing to follow-ups. Poynter’s NewsU even has a whole Webinar on the subject taught by Toronto Star Public Editor Kathy English.

Then’s there’s the quality advice we get from NewsRadio’s Joe Rogan, circa 1996 (hat tip to @grapechick for the quote and @bluestraggler for the ID):

“You can’t take something off the Internet. It’s like trying to take pee out of a swimming pool. Once it’s in there, it’s in there.”

Good discussion of your unpublishing policy is essential, and writing it explicitly in your ethics policy is even better. The better your staff understands how to apply the policy, the more consistently they will apply it when the issue comes up, and that’s a crucial part to your news org’s credibility.

What policies do you have in place for unpublishing requests? Is it ever discussed in your newsroom? Do you think it should have a place in your ethics policy?