April 21, 2011 In one of our most recent publications, we were faced with a problem which we had never faced before. A source requested, after publication, that some of the information in the story be changed. The story had been up-and-running for several days by this point, and much discussion and deliberation was needed in order to come to a decision.
Eventually, the change was discussed with the source, the editor, and the writer and a compromise was reached. However, many members of the LakeVoice staff did not agree with the change. Some thought the story should be left unchanged, others thought the entire story should be pulled.
The decision to change some of the information in the story came after some research. Unlike print journalism, web journalism can be edited and changed easily and quickly, but changing an article after publication is ethically questionable.
In assessing whether or not a story should be changed, the Poynter Institute offer a number of questions to be asked before the decision can be made. We had to decide what was being asked of us, why, and what could be done. While changing or retracting stories is rare, instances where a source feels misrepresented, or material that could be damaging to them either now or in the future is published, demand an ethical decision to be made. We decided, after much deliberation, to remove a portion of the story the source thought was potentially damaging and let the reader know by adding an editor’s note at the top of the story.
Journalism ethics are complicated and as a newsroom of students, something we don’t come across all too often. Fortunately, this was a lesson learned for all of us and we are definitely prepared for anything similar which may arise in the future.