For people without their own web site or blog, a newspaper article can become their primary identity online. Local news sites face this responsibility most often and most intensely.

Every article or blog on the internet can become part of the permanent record, but the publisher doesn’t control how and when people access this information- for the most part, search engines become the gatekeepers.

However, news organizations can and should take responsibility for ensuring their piece of the permanent record provides their best understanding of reality.

JD Lasica (also an Idealab blogger) quoted Terry Heaton riffing on a post by Mike Orren. In case you lost track, this is Heaton writing about

journalistic responsibility in an era when online search goes a long way toward determining a person’s identity and character. This is a new animal in the history of the press, and I think it bears discussion. Here’s the nut of it:

A media company with lots of Google Juice does a “man charged with” story. A search for that man’s name puts that story high in the search results. Later, the charges are dropped but the search results don’t change.

Orren, who cites personal examples in his post about the subject, thinks journalists might have some responsibility to update the original story in such a way that it assists the reader in determining the truth. That could be by adding a link to or otherwise re-editing the original text, things that could only be done with direct access to the database storage of the archived content produced by the media company.

When most of your readers – over time – find your content through search engines, it is vital to post updates to old information.

This doesn’t have to be a costly burden. By allowing site visitors to connect articles, blog entries, and other pages on your site to one another both more easily and more prominently than they can with comments, Related Content can help even the smallest – or the largest – online news organizations meet this responsibility.