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Brave New 2.0 World

by Julia Kelso

The written word is immortal. At least as long as a copy exists, and though archeologists have yet to find waterlogged or sand-covered papyrus calling Cleopatra a “rhymes with witch,” the potential remains.

It’s a cliché because it’s true. Once something is out on the 'net, it’s there forever. The same rubric has long applied to publishing, but not in quite the same fashion. In the long ago days when hard copies were the only way to go, it was far too easy for an author to vanish into obscurity; if extant copies only reside on dusty library shelves up in the stacks, those words might never be read again. Today obscurity is relative. Punch in the right search terms, and it possible to “Google” a person’s entire history.

By the same token, in the ancient times of paper and ink, if a writer in a fit of pique or the throes of political fervor, wrote something for publication, which she later rued, there was at least a chance of it seeing the light of day once and never again. Today, even if those words passed into the waters of the web with scarcely a ripple, they remain, lurking just beneath the surface, like oil under seemingly pristine water, waiting for someone to look for them.

It is easier than ever for unconsidered words to come back and haunt us. Potential employers among others, are wise to the ways of the net, and quite capable of running our names through a search engine or three to try to get a feeling for what our CVs do not say about us. Every day there are stories in the news about words or deeds that people desperately wish they could call back. That is why writers are increasingly advised to adopt a policy of think before hitting “send.”

The same holds true for publishers of those words. And even when we think we have thought of everything, the World Wide Web brings up new questions that require written policies to define our reactions to a given situation. Recently, we at The Silverfish were confronted with an issue that led us down just such a road.

A previous contributor to our publication is now in the job market and feels that the phrasing of something s/he wrote for us could be detrimental if a potential employer dives into the waters of the web to research her. As a result of this, we were asked to remove author credit from that particular item.

This led us to a bit of a quandary. Obviously, as we do our best to follow journalistic standards here, we did not feel the piece to problematical, or we would not have published it in the first place. We also felt strongly about not going back and changing something the author had clearly felt comfortable with sending out in the world once upon a time, simply due to a change of heart. Nor, as far as I could discover, do other publications – print, online or both – ever take such steps.

However, it turns out we did not have a specific policy in place regarding this issue. As many libraries and other organizations have learned to their discomfiture, in the absence of a specific policy forbidding an action, the fight can be unwinnable. Therefore, we made a two-fold decision.

In the first place, we agreed to a minor edit to the author’s name that will hopefully prove sufficient to stay under the search engine radar. Secondly, we decided to craft a policy that addresses this issue. While the wording is a bit more complex, its essence is: Just say no.

We do not want to have a chilling effect on the thoughts and words of our would-be contributors, but in the real world, once your name is on something, it is carved in what passes these days for stone. While academia is considered a haven from the real world, it is also intended to prepare us for it, at least a little. Therefore, while we want to read and print what you have to say, be sure that you want others to read it. It is true that the truth is not always comfortable, but write something you are willing to stand behind.

And then share it with the rest of us!

You can see our new policy for articles here.

June 9, 2010
Vol. XIV Issue 2

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