August 12, 2014


Gawker notes that BuzzFeed has unpublished more than 4,000 articles recently, disappearing posts on the 8-year-old company’s website. Editors at news websites usually take articles down with great reluctance, because doing so undermines public confidence in your newsroom’s work. Why would anyone trust what you say today if you routinely take down pages that you can no longer stand behind?

RELATED: Fairness and credibility guidelines for unpublishing online content

Still, there are rare occasions when taking down a post is the best option. Here are some best practices:

  • Keep a blank page up, rather than making the entire URL disappear or redirecting to a homepage without note.
  • Leave the tags and searchable information, so folks can find what’s left behind and know for certain the information is no longer valid.
  • On that blank page, insert a precisely worded explanation from editors describing why the material had to be removed. Was it entirely untrue? Inappropriately attributed? Obscene? Telling people why allows the audience to discern your editorial standards.
  • If the item was inaccurate, do your best to redirect the audience to accurate information.
  • If the item was accurate, yet inappropriately harmful to an individual, (this happens to college news sites all the time) explain what your news organization’s threshold is for making such a decision.
  • Direct readers to an online copy of your code of ethics or editorial standards.
  • Remove entire articles only as a last resort. If it can be fixed or attributed, you owe your audience that first.

I stop short of telling editors they should never unpublish information. Taking articles down is a rare phenomenon among trustworthy institutions, and it should be executed in the full light of day.  If you have editorial standards for publishing information, you might as well have standards that guide you through the decision to take it down.

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Kelly McBride is a journalist, consultant and one of the country’s leading voices on media ethics and democracy. She is senior vice president and chair…
Kelly McBride

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