Ethics of Altering Existing but Obsolete News Stories
The always-fascinating Grok.com has an article on the ethics of altering old news to reflect current realities, and how the New York Times search engine strategy is bringing up a rash of complaints from people profiled unfavorably in old stories.
Interestingly enough, I was recently listening to part of Orwell’s “1984″ on tape–the part, as it happens, that profiles Winston Smith’s typical day at work–altering old news stories to fit the current politics of the dictatorship.
I’d forgotten that’s what he did for a living. Yet this is one of the most chilling parts of that whole very chilling story. I have to re-read it–it’s been decades!
the Grok story generated quite a few comments (16 so far). The most cogent, in my opinion, was from David Meerman Scott, a well-known PR writer–here’s an excerpt:
My opinion is that the news should always be maintained as originally written. However I do see wide applications of social media tools to amend news, much like a comment or trackback does to a blog post.
News happens and then things change. It is inevitable. Imagine a story about, say, “Czechoslovakia.” But then the country disappears into the “Czech Republic” and “Slovakia”. That does not change the opinion of the reporter or what was said when it was first published. A comment–style addition saying that Prague is now the capital of the Czech Republic would be helpful to a story about Czechoslovakia but I would not advocate a search and replace strategy to make wholesale changes to pre-existing news.
I agree with David. It’s fine to annotate old news stories to reflect current realities/correct errors–but it’s definitely not OK to alter stories and claim they were in the original. I also agree with Brad Waller’s comment that the Times could benefit greatly by adding updated links and corrections, making the story fresh and relevant again.
Shel Horowitz, author, Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First and founder of the Business Ethics Pledge, http://www.business-ethics-pledge.org