Monday, October 29, 2007

The Ethicist answers student newspaper dilemma

Randy Cohen, who writes The Ethicist column for The New York Times Magazine, addresses a common problem for student newspapers in this week's column.

Here's the question:
My college newspaper ran an opinion article supporting a professor who had not been rehired. The article now appears at the top of any Internet search of the professor’s name. Hoping not to discourage potential employers, the professor asked us to remove the article from our archive for two years. Should we? — B.B., New York

Cohen argues that the newspaper should not pull the story from the Web site.

"If the article met your standards for publication — and it did — you may not purge it," he writes. "Helping even a worthy professor’s career is not sufficient reason to falsify by omission the historic record, even so modest a record as back issues of a college paper."

As it turned out, the student editors at the unnamed student paper didn't follow The Ethicist's advice. They redacted the piece in the archive.

This is a very common problem at student newspapers. At Golden Gate [X]press, the student newspaper at San Francisco State University that I advise, we get regularly receive requests from sources asking that articles be pulled from the online archive for various reasons. The most common is they don't want their college exploits to follow them in the professional world. My editors usually decide not to grant these requests unless there are questions about the accuracy of the story.

Has your newspaper faced this ethical dilemma? If so what did you do? What do you think of Cohen's position? Post a comment below.

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