Student Media Spotlight Loses Luster for Some Alums

A growing number of university alumni are attempting to put their more personal, unprofessional or cringe-worthy moments in the student media spotlight behind them.  

According to a new report in The Chronicle of Higher Education*,  some alums  are asking SMOs (student media outlets) to remove articles from their online archives that they say are misleading or embarassing.  Why so worried?  They do not want current or future employers, grad schools or significant others to find them. 

Welcome to the World (Wide Web).  Finger prints are so 2008.  What we’re talking about here are (dramatic pause) Google prints – basically the stuff that we create or that gets posted online about us that now has the ability to haunt us forever.  The SMOs appear to be targeted because they run stories by or about us peeps in our younger days, when we are potentially more likely to write that op-ed about legalizing all drugs ASAP or to steal an old lady’s purse while drunk and earn a place in the campus police blotter.  (In addition, many SMOs have free, more Google-friendly archives than professional outlets.)  

Must alums suffer for their undergraduate op-ed extravagances or one-time-only minor infractions?  It’s a tough call, but ultimately altering old content is a HUGE slippery slope.  Most papers are apparently standing firm on NOT changing a word of any past stories.  A few are taking what the Chronicle calls a middle ground by “darkening” certain pieces- essentially making them crazy-tough to find through a typical Google search.

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These types of complaints are ultimately an overreaction.  And let’s not forget: YOU WERE IN COLLEGE, meaning you were already a legal adult.  So unless someone stuck a gun to your head and said ‘Write me an article’ or ‘Go get arrested for something silly’ or ‘Give me a quote and no one gets hurt’ it’s hard to feel sorry for you.  

There are exceptions, in my opinion, at least those that deserve more careful consideration.  The Chron piece calls it the “human factor.” One I recall reading about in recent years was a young woman who wrote some pieces in college critical of a specific very anti-American foreign government who suddenly found herself working in that country and requested that the newspaper erase or “darken” her pieces to ensure she would not be in danger.  Maybe she was being over-cautious, but a request like that would at least give me pause and prompt a chat with fellow editors.

What do you think???  (Be careful what you say- your comments will haunt you . . . forever.)

CICM Director Bryan Murley says it best, as usual: “If the first thing that comes up on a Google search is something they did in college because they haven’t done anything since college, then they should participate more in the online conversation.  Hopefully five or 10 years from now, people won’t be so worried about this, because everybody will have their Internet trail, and it will become more acceptable.”

(*The Chronicle is well-known for restricting its content like whoa to non-subscribers, so the link may only bring you to a teaser site.)

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