Understanding publishers’ concerns
Public requests to unpublish are becoming increasingly frequent and are expected to increase. – Kathy English, The Star’s Public Editor
One of the greatest benefits of the Web is the ease of access to online news archives, public records, and other information. This ease of access benefits journalists as well as average ordinary people, people like us. Online articles that reference you or people you may know can provide a great deal of information about successful careers, novel inventions and prominent events. Similarly, these electronic records can be very visible, permanent reminders of past indiscretions that have long-lasting negative effects for their subjects. For example, your arrest record, mugshot, residential address, financial or tax information are likely legitimately published, but this is not to say that there are never any reasons to unpublish this sensitive and personal information.
A practical approach to Unpublishing: Consumers’ main issue is that most publishers are reluctant to unpublish and worse, don’t have an Unpublishing Policy. Without an Unpublishing Policy and some sort of compensation to mitigate expenses, losses, and liabilities, the chance of convincing a publisher to unpublish are extremely slim.
For online publishers, requests to unpublish content raise ethical questions about accuracy and fairness, as well as credibility and trust with the readers, advertisers, other partners and the niche communities being served. Online publishers do not believe it is in the best interest of the reader or the public to be able to alter or expunge existing and published records. Neither newspapers nor magazines are unpublished; the same expectation applies to online content. As some in the media business say, “We’re not here to rewrite history.”
Initial content creation costs
Contrary to popular belief, online content is not easily created. A significant amount of hours and funds have gone into licensing, researching, sourcing, verifying and approving the content you see online.
It takes an enormous amount of time for publisher’s staff at online publications to revisit and verify the truth and circumstances behind a request to unpublish articles and other records. Usually the request is solely based on someone’s regrets over past actions, actions that may be 20 years old. If every journalist or website operator was required to spend all their time following-up on old stories and old content, new content would not be written or added and the site would suffer in other areas that could make it less viable over the long term.
In some unpublishing requests a lawyer or lawyers would need to be consulted with before approving or declining a request. Whether the request is approved or declined, the publisher still suffers legal costs in relation to the unpublishing request in question.
Manpower is at a premium at most publishing organizations and it would take the webmasters hours to unpublish content that countless search engines like Google or Yahoo have already taken a snapshot of and stored as cache.
Advertising revenue loss
Most online publishers risk a substantial loss of advertising revenue when unpublishing. Many readers expect web content to be free and accurate. Consequently, many online publishers use revenue from online advertisers to keep their content free. The trust of their readership is important to keep their readership numbers high and higher readerships equal more revenue from advertisers. If the online publisher began unpublishing regularly without a clear and solid Unpublishing Policy in place, readers would question the validity and reliability of the site.
Unpublishing can lead to loss of business opportunity for the online site. Just as readers have to trust the publisher, business partners and advertisers also have to trust the site. To simply remove published content from the archive diminishes transparency and trust with the readers and in effect, erases history.
Publishers who agree to unpublish will never be able to earn future revenue against the unpublished content. Once unpublished, the business opportunity is gone forever.