As Student Newspaper Archives Grow Online, Some Alums Worry About Their Google Prints

The evermore expansive set of student press archives being placed online continues to concern those who wish their undergrad misdeeds or heated words would stay in the past, not in their Google prints.

As a new USA Today College piece by Ohio University journalism student Stephanie Stark confirms, “[C]ollege newspapers are uploading old print stories into their online archives, and letters and stories written by or about students in the ’70s and ’80s are coming up in Google searches on professionals who previously weren’t so publicly connected to their pasts.  Misdemeanors that would otherwise be expunged and wiped from record, letters-to-the-editor with regrettable stances and the unknowing mistakes of students in positions of leadership are published online and forever trapped in Google.”

The online availability and searchability of old student newspapers are especially worrisome to some alums because they are often the sole outlets running stories about their youthful indiscretions– the op-ed they wrote about legalizing all drugs ASAP or their drunken swiping of an old lady’s purse that earned them a spot in the police blotter.  For example, a one-time student government presidential candidate quoted in Stark’s piece mentions being wary of employers seeing a letter to the editor discussing the time he signed a girl’s butt cheek during a block party.

Online student press archives do at times have consequences far beyond mere butt-signing embarrassment.  During the last academic year, the editor-in-chief of The Daily Californian was forced to fight a lawsuit brought against him by the father of a former UC Berkeley student-athlete.  The suit stemmed from the paper’s refusal to erase or alter stories on its website that reported upon the student’s unruly behavior at a nightclub more than four years ago and his subsequent dismissal from the university football team.  In the end, no content was edited or deleted and the editor-in-chief won the case.

In 2009, Center for Innovation in College Media director Bryan Murley commented on the increase in alums apprehensive about their student press trails.  In his words, “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.”

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