Online Stories Can Come Back to Haunt
Shares of United Airlines' parent company UAL Corp. were hit hard and briefly halted Monday after a 6-year-old story on the company's bankruptcy filing was reportedly republished with a new date on the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper's Web site.The company's stock price dropped by over 75 percent in a few hours and trading had to be halted when a story about UAL emerging from bankruptcy hit the Sentinel's web site. The problem: the story was actually from 2002, but incorrectly redated.
It was only on one site, but when information gets sucked up by the Internet and automatically distributed, a single mistake in one state can spread internationally in a twinkling and have an overbearing influence. When you're working with online publishers and giving away rights, remember that if a story gets dragged up, possibly badly edited, your name might still be attached. Then, to some degree, many will perceive the mistake as yours, even if done so unreasonably.
To a big degree, I can't see how a writer might avoid this type of problem. There is only so often you can check the web (though, frankly, subscribing to the RSS feeds of publications to which you contribute might let you catch something like this). When you can't anticipate and head things off, you need to know how you'll deal with the aftermath. Maybe it's a blog post about the problem and using that mistake by the publisher as a reason to talk about the story's update and where things sit today. Or maybe you can directly post that as a comment to a story, showing that you, at least, know what's going on. But be ready in any case to take action and do what you can to protect your professional reputation. As a writer you have little else of value.