Sunday, January 20, 2019

A hole worth plugging? Many UK newspapers can "disappear" online news stories with impunity; today I asked the presiding authority to take a look [UPDATED]


UPDATE: In a 1/23/19 e-mail, Jonathan Grun informed me that my suggested revision of the Editors' Code (below the hash marks) will be considered at an upcoming meeting of the Committee. 


January 20, 2019

Jonathan Grun
Editors' Code Committee c/o News Media Association
292 Vauxhall Bridge Road
London SW1V 1AE UK

Dear Mr. Grun,

I was referred to your office by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO). It's my understanding that your Committee welcomes suggestions to improve the Editors' Code, hence this outreach.

In the course of reporting for my blog (The Sidebar), to my surprise I learned that IPSO member publications may delete published online news stories with impunity.

Briefly, after the accuracy of the reporting in the following three unrelated news stories published by IPSO member newspapers was questioned by me and by others, the stories simply vanished without any explanation to readers. (I've included the original URLs. If you click through, you'll see that they redirect to unrelated pages on the publications' websites.*)

Ed Byrne saves choking fan’s life by Alex Matthews, Mail Online, January 2, 2018

Northampton care home staff save residents' [sic] life after he started choking by Carly Roberts, Northampton Chronicle & Echo, June 15, 2018

Milton Keynes man's device saves 11 people from choking to death by Paige Brown, January 17, 2019, Milton Keynes Citizen

In response to complaints I filed last year with IPSO re: the Mail Online and Northampton Chronicle & Echo articles,** I was informed that no provision in the Editor's Code addresses the deletion of published news stories by IPSO member publications. In my opinion, that raises a variety of concerns.

For instance, if an article includes false information, rather than exercising editorial responsibility to correct errors, a publication may simply eliminate the entire story. That may shield reporters and editors from embarrassment (or worse), but in my opinion the Orwellian "disappearing" of published news reports is a disservice to readers and to the record.

It's also a slippery ethical slope. For example, if an advertiser doesn't like critical information in a story, could a word in the ear of a person with authority at the newspaper lead to the offending article being sent down the memory hole?

How common is the practice at IPSO member publications? I haven't a clue, but without trying, I tagged three examples in just one year.***

My opinion? It's a hole in the Editor's Code that's worth plugging. I'll be curious to learn if the Committee agrees.

Thank you for your time/attention and I'd welcome a reply.


Peter M. Heimlich
Peachtree Corners, GA 30096 USA
ph: (208)474-7283
Twitter: @medfraud_pmh

* Please click the following links for copies of the now-M.I.A Mail Online article via a news aggregator website and the Northampton Chronicle & Echo article via The Wayback Machine

The January 17, 2019 Milton Keynes Citizen article was deleted shortly after I sent a same-day e-mail inquiry to reporter Paige Brown. I couldn't locate a copy of her story in Google's cache or via The Wayback Machine, but here's a screenshot from a Bing News search today:

 ** More about my complaints here and here

*** Unsurprisingly, scrubbing news stories isn't confined to IPSO member publications. For example, in 2013 I tagged Cincinnati Business Courier editor Rob Daumeyer for "disappearing" a story about my father (Henry J. Heimlich MD, known for his namesake anti-choking maneuver) apparently because it contained unflattering information

cc: Charlotte Urwin, Head of Standards, IPSO