A new responsibility for journalists?

Mike Orren is asking important questions about journalistic responsibility in an era when online search goes a long way toward determining a person’s identity and character. This is a new animal in the history of the press, and I think it bears discussion. Here’s the nut of it:

A media company with lots of Google Juice does a “man charged with” story. A search for that man’s name puts that story high in the search results. Later, the charges are dropped but the search results don’t change.

Orren, who cites personal examples in his post about the subject, thinks journalists might have some responsibility to update the original story in such a way that it assists the reader in determining the truth. That could be by adding a link to or otherwise re-editing the original text, things that could only be done with direct access to the database storage of the archived content produced by the media company.

This is new territory for journalism, because we’ve always been able to fall back on the notion that today’s content supersedes yesterday’s. You can get away with that as the “voice of record,” but nowadays, that position is increasingly being given to search engines and search technology.

It’s also interesting to me that these questions are coming from Mike, a guy who spends his life dealing with media at the hyperlocal level. It’s here — where your subjects are your neighbors — that the meaty issues of journalistic responsibility are most acute. For example, it’s one thing for the New York Times to “expose” a guy here in Grapevine, Texas, but it’s entirely another matter for the local paper to do the same thing.


  1. Thanks for furthering this discussion, Terry…

    I think it’s natural that these issues come to the fore first in local. On average, we get a comment or two posted a week from people in the stories we publish. Almost all are respectful. Some are painfully thought provoking.

    An excerpt from what may be my favorite user comment ever on our site. (http://www.pegasusnews.com/blogs/pegasusnewsblog/2007/jun/09/power/)

    “…Anyway, just a comment on the Power of Pegasus…that the probable possibility that someone directly related with the story at hand will be actively involved in the discussion…something you’d never expect (or get) at any other news outlet. I’ll have to take that into consideration next time when I think about my momma being proud of what I just wrote.”

    (The momma bit comes from the submit button on our comments.)

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