Jim Robertson, managing editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune, clarified the Tribune’s policies regarding web content. The issue arose when Tribune employee Chris Allen removed Fourth Ward candidate Tracy Greever-Rice‘s comments from the Tribune website per Greever-Rice’s request prior to her declaring her candidacy.
Robertson said that content on the site is not managed by the IT department, Allen’s department.
“IT dealt with it and they should have known that content was an editorial function,” Robertson said.
Robertson said that everyone in the newsroom understands that content on the site is an editorial function, but the IT folks weren’t as informed. The Tribune has a company policy handbook but Robertson said it didn’t explicitly cover this situation.
“I suspect that this would make a notation,” Robertson said.
According to Tribune reporter Janese Heavin, Allen received a “clearer understanding of the policy.”
“I believe that (Allen) made an honest mistake,” Robertson said. “He just didn’t think of the ramifications.”
Tribune staffers were attempting to find Greever-Rice’s past comments when they discovered they were missing, according to the Tribune article.
“When she declares for public office,” Robertson said, “it’s a natural thing for reporters to go back and look at what they said… There’s nothing nefarious.”
Robertson said it was easy to identify Greever-Rice because she frequently commented under the handle “Tracy.”
“She wasn’t anonymous. Everyone in the newsroom knew who she was,” Robertson said. “We didn’t have to unravel anything to figure out who she was.”
Robertson said that if Greever-Rice had used an anonymous handle, the Tribune’s first step would have been to contact her and clarify it was her commenting before deciding on further action.
The policy issue, however, is an example of the ever-changing state of journalism. Advances in technology, particularly related to the internet, have created interesting situations in many newsrooms, not just the Tribune’s.
“This is an evolving thing. We have only had this content management system for about a year now,” Robertson said. “We are running into things that we haven’t had to deal with before.”