Carroll: Embarrassing stories can last a lifetime
Above the Fold
The Aspen Times occasionally fields requests to remove stories — or unpublish them — from our website, and it’s been no different this summer, including some doozies from separate readers dealing with bouts of love on the rocks.
One person asked that we remove an engagement announcement because, well, the wedding never happened. The other caller requested that we remove a photo of him because the caption described him as the “beau” of the woman with whom he was pictured. The problem was that the man is married and the photo, easily found with a Google search, was bringing headaches to his marriage.
So here we had two callers wanting to remove items about them — one because the marriage was off before it started and the other to keep the marriage together before it collapsed.
Unlike 20 or so years ago, those newspaper items that might have ushered in a day or two of embarrassment for somebody who regrets something they did is no longer the case. Nowadays, once something goes online, it can live there seemingly forever.
And even if we were to unpublish a story, because our stories are not behind a paywall, there’s a strong chance the article would still appear on Google.
In the case of those two requests, we opted not to remove the items from our website. The fact is that the woman whose wedding was called off was once engaged to be married. And the married man pictured with another woman? Well, he did that to himself.
Just last week we had a request from a relatively young man whose criminal case was covered in this paper. He said that he has moved on in life but the theft case still hangs over his head in a Google search. The same goes for a local business that was cleared in a criminal investigation, but the stories about it — including the one that reported about the retailer being exonerated — still populate the Internet.
It’s not that we’re cold, soulless beings with no compassion for the subjects we cover. In fact, more than a year ago we stopped the online publication of our Police Blotter because the petty transgressions they often feature could haunt somebody for years. Barring that exception, we hold our websites in the same regard we have for our print products. In other words, the newspaper industry didn’t cut out articles back in the days when its products were print-only, and we can’t do it — in most circumstances — with our website.
Our online archives are considered an accurate account of the events and facts at the time they are reported. If readers notify us of an inaccuracy in a story, then we will research the claim and correct it if indeed there was an error.
But only in rare instances will we unpublish story, in such cases as plagiarism or a source that turned out to be bogus. But the general rule is that the stories and photos that appear on our website are there to stay, and subjects seeking special treatment will be out of luck.
Rick Carroll is editor of The Aspen Times. He takes comments, complaints, questions and news tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.