To Unpublish or
Not To Unpublish?
Kathy English, Public Editor,
The Toronto Star and thestar.com
When, if ever, should a newsroom agree to remove a story
from its news archives?
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Q&A with Kathy English
Can you briefly describe your APME Online Journalism Credibility Project?
Content archived by newspapers is more easily accessible to more people than ever before through search
engines, and lives virtually forever. This has led to increasing requests from those named in articles to
remove content from Web sites – to "unpublish.” This project examined how North American news
organizations are handling and responding to requests to have content unpublished.
Why did you choose this issue?
As public editor of Canada’s largest-circulation newspaper, rarely a month goes by that I am not faced
with requests from readers toremove content from the Star’s Web site. I was interested in how news
organizations respond to such requests in a manner consistent with journalistic principles of accuracy,
accountability, fairness and transparency.
How did you approach the issue?
More than 100 North American news organizations responded to my survey on this issue through APME
Update and SurveyMonkey. I also queried ombudsmen and public editors through the Organization of
Newspaper Ombudsmen and interviewed media lawyers. I visited three news organizations in the U.S.
Midwest to talk with news executives about how they handle this matter.
What did you and your news organization learn?
I learned that there is an overall strong reluctance to remove published content from news Web sites.
Although about half of the industry leaders surveyed have evolved policies and practices for handling
unpublishing requests, no overall industry best practices have yet emerged. As a result of this project,
I wrote a "white paper" on the topic, including a policy for The Star and a list of questions that newsrooms
or editors might ask themselves when making decisions.