The Robinson Affair & minimising a conversial post…

11 01 2010

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Between 9.20am and 9.50am on Thursday January 07 2010 – some 13 hours ahead of Spotlight – this blog identified the man with whom Iris Robinson had an affair.

I picked up information from a number of sources and it all checked out. I was convinced that the name Kirk McCambley was correct, and that there was a strong public interest at stake… so I blogged it. I think this was the first mention of his name. Some people even noticed.

At 9.19am, I felt a surge of courage and I pressed the ‘publish’ button. (NOTE: The surge of courage is a warning sign – when you detect feelings of courage, stop whatever you’re doing.)

I then spoke to a few people about the post and it became clear that they all thought it was very courageous too. (NOTE: When others praise your courage this is also a warning sign – reverse / erase whatever you were doing.) Despite my former certainty, I became paranoid and overwhelmed by self-doubt. I got very worrieed about what the possible consequences of being wrong might be.

There are only a few solitary activities which I would recommend. One is swimming. Another is, er … but being the only person naming Iris Robinson’s lover is definitely not a recommended solo activity. In this I was feeling very lonely, so I did the only thing I could – I immediately sought the comfort of the crowd again. At about 9.45am I decided to rewrite the post and to publish a softer version.

So far, so stupid. This of course didn’t remove the problem. The original had been cached and the aggregator sites had picked it up. The search string ‘Kirk McCambley’ was sending hundreds of hits to this blog, and by mid-day I felt very strongly like I needed to try to put the toothpaste back in the tube.

I’m not technically minded so I called a few people who were. They gave me some great advice which I’m passing on.

So, if you publish something you want slightly overlooked / minimised, fear not there may be some time to correct things. You might try the following:

  1. Make changes to the text, but make sure to change the original publication date of the post. When the Googlebot comes crawling back again it may subsequently identify the post as entirely new content and update the cached page.
  2. In addition I added an entirely new (random) post above the one I was updating. I inserted link from that back to the changed post. Those who know about this stuff tell me that adding the fresh link will further persuade the Googlebot to treat the linked post as updated information (and over-write the page cache).
  3. If you have a google account and are logged in, you may be able to demote an offending post on the search results. At the end of each result you will see a ‘speech bubble’ symbol, an ‘arrow symbol’ and the letter ‘X’. Hit the letter ‘X’. Ask your trusted friends to do likewise. This demotes the offending search result down the page. If you’re lucky the cached result will spill back into Page 2.
  4. For those with more technical noos than I, check this out. It’s a link to google’s webmaster tools. Here you can find all sorts of mysterious wonders like ‘no archive’ meta tags and URL removal tools.

Here is some additional, non-technical advice:

  1. Never publish your post immediately as the last full-stop goes on the page. Always save it as a draft then come back to it in an hour or so. There is no post that hasn’t benefitted from an hour’s gestation.
  2. If necessary share it with others and email around before publishing. In this specific instance, I went arse about face and asked for opinions after it went up. That was wrong.
  3. (God forgive me) but always be first with analysis / opinion, but never with reporting. Let newspapers break news. So if you have a good tip, email a journalist buddy and let them have it. You can be out first with the analysis / background / context etc…
  4. If a journalist gets it wrong, their publication gets sued. If a blogger publishes and gets it wrong, well, you may be exposed. Play it safe.
  5. I repeat – if you feel a swell of courage just before you publish, stop. Just stop it.

Some of what I suggest above made my post only slightly more difficult to find – but ultimately, there is no place to hide. On the 7th of January I received 5,078 hits, which is some way above my normal audience (hi mum!). Most of you who came here on January 7th will have discovered that I am a coward. However I should point out that I tried bravery between 9.20am and 9.50am and it felt very squirty and uncomfortable.

Bottomline: I have learned to run a mile when I hear the words ‘I salute your courage’. I suggest you do the same.

PS. Many thanks to everyone who fielded my panicked emails / phone calls last week. I, in turn, salute your generosity.

PPS. I’m not a techie, so there will be many other things to suggest for those desperate to minimise a post / put the toothpaste back in the tube. Please do add anything you think useful etc…

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3 responses

11 01 2010
Editor

But just think Geoff, if you had stuck with your courage you would have scooped the Beeb!

Jeff Peel

13 01 2010
bobballs

In hindsight, shoulda / coulda / woulda! Yip, right now that would have been nice. But for most of Jan 7th i sort of worried if i might have, well, y’know, totally libelled someone in the sex scandal of the decade!

My wife hates it when i lose the car keys or the remote control. Wonder what she’d have said if i lost the house? Erm… okay, i’ll stop the self-justification – let’s face it, I’m just a big coolie!

13 01 2010
triviallyyours

haha, fun post 🙂 i’m a journalist, so i completely sympathize. some days i keep fretting for hours after i’ve turned my story in – have i offended someone unnecessarily, have i betrayed national interests, have i made matters worse, will someone be asking for my head 🙂 good save, though 🙂

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