And if you haven’t heard about it, good luck finding it on CNN’s website: After a fairly justifiable public outrage, CNN took the story down, replacing it with an editor’s note claiming that “after further review, it was determined that some elements of the story did not meet the editorial standards of CNN.”
A statement later released by CNN’s public relations team sheds further light on the (lack of) editorial process behind the story, saying “it’s worth noting that the post in question did not channel through the standard internal process and it was not reviewed by the senior editorial staff before appearing on CNN.com.”
It’s good that they’re recognizing this story was a non-story. But it’s bad that they’re not apologizing to their readers, and offering more of an explanation.
But more importantly, CNN’s response simply proves that they still don’t grasp the power of the Internet — taking something down may eliminate the barrage of comments that an irresponsible story might produce, but it doesn’t mean that it’s gone from public conscience.
The Daily Kos, a democratic blog, has posted the full text of the story — something that’s easy to find with a simple Google search. Multiple other media outlets have screenshots of CNN’s initial post, and it’s easy to find Twitter reactions lambasting CNN for publishing the story in the first place.
One could argue that taking down the post was a symbolic action by CNN: They were acknowledging that the journalism involved was not up to par, and were trying to show their audience that it did not meet the paper’s editorial standards.
Nevertheless, taking the article down has generated almost as much controversy as the article itself, and, in my mind, it backfired. It took away from the public’s trust in CNN, rather than reinforced it.
According to an article on the Poynter Institute’s website, 78.2 percent of editors at the 110 newspapers certified said there were reasons to remove content from their publication’s websites.
The reasons they identified ranged from if offending stories were totally wrong, if a writer felt like they were going to embarrassed or if a source expressed remorse — all of these could, theoretically, be in line with CNN’s reasons behind removing the story.
However, CNN had none of these justifications. Foremost, the writer firmly stands by her post, as does the researcher who started it all. Sure, it was going off of a very questionable study, but clearly some editor assigned it to the writer, and the writer did try to balance the story with dissenting viewpoints.
The reason why CNN took down the story was to get rid of the embarrassment it generated. But you just can’t do that online — much like the ugly picture I took for the Collegian last year while wearing a stained t-shirt that shows up whenever you Google me, CNN can’t simply pretend like it didn’t post a story about how periods impact voting.
So what should CNN have done instead? They could have done what the Columbia Journalism Review did earlier this year, when they received flak for a story about how Israel imprisons more journalists per capita than any other country that relied entirely on faulty statistics.
Rather than taking the story down, the editor admitted that the whole basis for the story was wrong, and then created a forum for the post’s author and dissenting voices to debate about what the post stood for.
Sure, it was embarrassing for the Columbia Journalism Review (which has posted A LOT about journalists using shoddy numbers), but instead of taking the post down, they acknowledged that it wasn’t going away, and instead, took advantage of the internet as a platform and generated discussion.
Some people say that a newspaper lasts forever, but in reality, the Internet lasts way longer.
Editor in Chief Allison Sylte is a senior journalism major. Her column appears Mondays in the Collegian. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AllisonSylte.