How to Remove News Articles from Sites

September 12, 2023    •    8 min read

In today’s digital age, the Internet plays an enormous role in shaping our personal and professional reputations. The ability to access and quickly disseminate online content, including news articles, can lead to challenges when it comes to managing the reputations of businesses and individuals. In the past, when the public consumed news stories through reading a physical paper, embarrassing or unwanted articles were read and, often, quickly forgotten. The papers themselves would be discarded by the public on a weekly basis and could only be accessed through taking time to visit an archive or contacting the news outlet directly. Today, articles published years ago can be easily found through an internet search, and embarrassing, irrelevant, and outdated content remains in the public purview for years after its initial publication. For the subjects of these articles, the seemingly permanent record created by online news stories can cause ongoing reputational harm and anxiety and embarrassment, as well as practical impediments to future success.

Buckingham outlines a step-by-step guide on how to approach news organizations with the intent to remove negative news articles.

Evolving Standards

Prior to the explosion of the Internet, news organizations did not usually consider the lasting impact of news stories on a person’s reputation. Stories about petty thefts, minor misdemeanors, or embarrassing personal matters would be part of the public discussion for a short period of time, but typically would not have a lasting impact beyond the initial publication. 

As the use of the Internet to publish the news has expanded, so has the harm caused by these stories.  Instead of being tossed out with the trash after a week, these types of stories have been given a near infinite life on the Internet.

As a result, some  news sites have begun altering their approach in regards to both the types of stories they publish, as well as how they publish them. For example, in recent years, many news organizations have put in place safeguards regarding news stories that take into account this new reality. However, not all news organizations have considered this new landscape, and instead are more focused on preserving the historical record of the news. Yet, even these organizations may consider removing old, harmful news stories if provided with a compelling reason why the ongoing availability of such articles does more harm than good. 

If the article was factually accurate when published, the news outlet should be approached through a carefully crafted and respectful request to remove the story, rather than a legal demand.  Conversely, if the article was recently published and contains verifiably false information – i.e. information that is or resembles libel or slander – your will likely employ a different approach. If you are facing a situation involving a defamatory news publication, you should contact a qualified defamation attorney immediately to discuss your options and ensure you are preserving your rights. 

In the following sections, we address some commonly asked questions about negative online news content and how to address it.

The Impact of News Articles

Does responding to Google reviews help SEO? Can the same be said for news articles?

The answer, in short, is “yes.” One of the biggest considerations regarding online reputation relates to your search engine results on Google, Yahoo, Bing, and other search engines. They use proprietary algorithms to determine where results show up for various searches, and one of the criteria in each of these algorithms is the credibility of the site posting information. 

Websites for news organizations are considered highly credible sources of information, and as such, articles on news sites are often shown higher in search engine results. This can be problematic for your online reputation if a news site posts a false or embarrassing article about you on their website. 

It’s good to know that search engines may source social media profiles for reviews, as well. Learn more about how to respond to Facebook reviews in this blog post.

Right to Be Forgotten

How long do news articles stay online? 

It depends. Some prominent news organizations have adopted policies that are  known as – or that embrace the concept of – the “Right to be Forgotten”. These policies are, generally, derived from a similarly named piece of legislation that has been enacted in the European Union. The theory behind the “Right to be Forgotten” is that individuals should be provided with an opportunity to get information about them removed from the Internet if the information is, generally, no longer newsworthy. 

News organizations embracing the concept of the “Right to be Forgotten” usually provide an avenue for individuals  to personally submit requests to remove certain articles that contain personally identifying information. These organizations are generally very transparent about their criteria for removal, and are willing to discuss their decision with the people making the request. Notably, the majority of news organizations that have these policies prefer to receive a request for removal directly from the individual rather than their legal counsel. These user-friendly policies are an extremely helpful and cost-effective method of securing relief for ongoing harm caused by the availability of a negative publication.

How to Approach News Sites for Removal of Articles

How do I get something removed from Google search? 

If you have a news article that contains your personal information or picture and is on a website that does not have a specific Right to be Forgotten policy, you can still make a request for the removal of the content. In undertaking this process there are several considerations to bear in mind and steps you can take to increase the likelihood of success: 

  1. Assess the Need for Removal

First, before diving into the removal process, you should carefully analyze the article you wish to remove, as well as the specific content which is causing issues. Seeking removal of content from news sites can be time consuming, and, if you use an attorney, the process can also be costly. You should always consider whether the problem is worth this type of emotional and financial investment before moving forward. News articles can have a drastic impact on your online reputation, but you need to weigh the pros and cons before moving forward with the request. 

If you are bothered by the fact that there is a publicly available, online article that paints you in an unfavorable light, but its public availability has not resulted in personal or professional harm, you should pay more careful attention to the costs associated with removal. On the other hand, if the article is something that, for example, is brought up in job interviews or mentioned by new acquaintances, you may be more focused on the potential benefit.

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer as to whether you should move forward with seeking a removal of a news article. It can be helpful to consult with an attorney about the process to help assess the costs and benefits, but the choice is ultimately yours.

  1. Research the News Site

If you decide to move forward with addressing unwanted news articles, the first proactive step in the process is to research the website where the articles are posted. As mentioned, you should certainly look for policies on the website of the news outlet or organization that embrace the Right to be Forgotten. If the site does, they will likely lay out how an individual can go through that process. Follow those policies and procedures carefully. 

If the publication doesn’t have a Right to be Forgotten policy, it is important to research who the right person is to contact regarding your removal request. It is important to keep in mind that most news organizations are owned by a handful of parent companies. These parent companies will occasionally publish their policies on removal requests – even if the “policy” is that they do not “generally” entertain such requests or that they consider requests on a “case by case basis” – or provide a contact for a person at the parent company who reviews these requests. You can also search for other people who have made similar requests and see if there are any recommendations for your specific platform. 

Getting in touch with the right person can make a significant difference in the success of a request. Sending a request to a general email for a news outlet or station may result in your request being easily overlooked. Sending a request to an individual who does not have the ability to address your request may require you to repeat your request multiple times and can cause frustration. 

  1. Make Your Request

Once you have figured out whom to contact, it’s important to put a strong effort into the removal request itself. Generally, it isn’t a good idea to make a legal threat to try and accomplish your goal. News outlets are routinely threatened with lawsuits and have a variety of legal protections that serve as a bar to liability unless certain standards are met. If the content published about you was true when published, threatening a lawsuit is unlikely to cause the news outlet to even engage with you, much less agree to remove the harmful content.

Instead, it’s better to make an argument that compels the recipient to weigh the newsworthiness of the article against the harm that it is causing you – the subject – on a daily basis. Most publications will be willing to listen to an academic argument regarding this type of request and consider whether your specific situation warrants relief.

 Notably, our use of the term “argument” does not mean you should be aggressive or accusatory in your communications. As with making legal threats, such conduct is unlikely to yield positive results. Rather, presenting an “argument” simply setting out your grounds for removal in a persuasive manner. The goal is to get the recipient of the request to want to help you, not  make them feel as though you are trying to force their hand.

  1. Follow Up and Adapt

After making your initial request, it is important to keep following up with the publication until you get an answer. A lot of news rooms are short staffed, and getting a response to your request can take some time. It is important not to get frustrated and to keep respectfully requesting an answer. No answer does not always mean “no,” so don’t get discouraged if you don’t get immediate results. 

Explore Legal Avenues 

Can I bring a lawsuit against the news publication?

In most circumstances, it is not a good idea to try and pursue legal claims against news organizations for news articles.  As indicated, news organizations have numerous privileges that apply to them, and in order to overcome these privileges, a person must show that the news organization knew that the statements were false, or that they were so reckless in publishing the story that they should face liability.  This is an incredibly high burden to clear. You also need to remember that the relevant question is whether they knew the statements were false – or were reckless in regards to the truth or falsity of the statements – at the time they were published

With that said, in certain instances it isbe possible to pursue a claim for defamation or other privacy related claims against a news organization. The potential success of such a claim is extremely fact specific and should be guided by legal analysis. If you feel that you might be able to meet the high burden imposed on defamation plaintiffs pursuing an action against a news organization, it is important to contact a defamation attorney immediately to discuss your options.

While news articles can have a longer lasting and more devastating impact in this new digital world, there are still options for addressing the harms caused by these publications.  While it is very difficult to bring legal claims against news organizations for information they publish, it can be helpful to work with attorneys who have experience in assisting their clients manage their online reputation and to deal with these types of situations. If you’re in the unfortunate situation of facing unwanted or embarrassing news stories ranking highly in your Internet search results, contact Andrew Stebbins and Christina Williams of Buckingham’s defamation team to schedule your free consultation.

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Our attorneys are experienced in this subject matter, and can be emailed directly. Practice areas related to this content include: Defamation

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