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Cleaning up your online reputation?

I caught this post by Andy Dickinson about journalism students trying to clean up past indiscretions and have articles they wrote removed from their college paper sites. Apparently, as Bryan noted at Innovation in College Media, “more and more former students are attempting to get college media outlets to remove news items from their online archives.”

I’ve said before how thankful I am my high school newspaper wasn’t online when I was there. It is now, which makes sense but sucks for the students who in five years are going to wish they hadn’t been archived in Google. I had Web sites through middle and high school. But if a recruiter today stumbled upon the crap I wrote about back then, I’d surely never be considered. OK, they’d be able to tell the difference between an article in my newspaper today and one from high school. But the thing is, Google can’t.

I’m still annoyed by certain articles that pop up high in the Google search for my name today. One of the top hits is a list of articles from the Daily Kent Stater. (Fortunately, these are only from when we changed over platforms, so they’re the tailend of my collegiate journalism career, not my first forays into it. They’re also not from a period where I was on a regular beat, so it’s really scattered, but nothing I’d be entirely embarassed for someone to read.) There are articles I hate pop up when you search for me, the ones about May 4, Darfur, black squirrels, a hospital groundbreaking that I covered last summer, etc. I guess — I hope — the more articles I get under my belt, the quicker those will get nudged out.

But I’m not going to hire a company to make that happen. For one thing, I like to be able to look back at old stories and see how much I’ve grown and think how I would handle that story knowing what I know today. Often times even a few months can make a big difference in how I’d go about it. And the great thing about newspapers, and even more now with online, is that I can start over on a fresh story or topic tomorrow even if I didn’t nail the story today. Or I can come back from a different angle another time.

Bryan notes that the most common reason to want to clean up the record from college media outlets was to clean up blotter items of youthful indiscretions. I made a conscientious decision as editor of the Stater not to publish the blotter online for this reason. I was never in the blotter and could not have foreseen myself ever being in a situation where I would be (and in fact we had a discussion when a USS senator was arrested for a DUI that boiled down to the fact that were I to be arrested for a similar offense, as a campus leader I’d be held to the same standard, which would include a front-page article about the arrest). But kids will be kids, and I hated the idea that some underage drinking arrest would bar them from a job someday.

I’m not sure if they went ahead and ran the blotter online after I left. It would draw a lot of hits, surely. It was one of our most-read items in print. And I wouldn’t judge them for not.

The real question is going to be what happens when my generation gets into positions of power. We grew up being monitored by the Internet, or monitor ourselves and friends through it. But when it comes time for us to make the hiring decisions, will be more forgiving or will we be more diligent in our pursuits because we know the back roads of the net better than our bosses today? It’ll be interesting to see.

2 Responses to “Cleaning up your online reputation?”

  1. Jaclyn Says:

    I think I’m going to have to disagree with you on this one, dearie. Sure my high school stuff was, in retrospect, not nearly as rockin’ as I thought it was when I was 16 and 17. But I highly doubt anyone who’s hiring is expecting brilliance from a 16- or 17-year-old. I bet they’d just be impressed to know a potential hire was ambitious enough to get involved in high school or collegiate journalism. I would think that would speak more than an article about the history of the death penalty that has nothing to do with anything (not that I ever did that when I was a hs sophomore or anything …)

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