This note went out to the New York Times newsroom today from Standards Editor Phil Corbett. Do not unpublish stories! (You must find slicker ways to cover things up, duh.)
Subject: [NYT Newsroom] From Phil Corbett: Reminder on "Unpublishing"
To: [NYT newsroom]
This is a reminder that we have a general policy against "unpublishing" Web articles and blog posts.
There are a number of reasons: pulling down an article causes a broken link that gives readers a frustrating error message; it can create the appearance that we are covering up errors; and it leaves a trail for the conspiracy-minded to follow in RSS feeds and search caches.
If a problem is spotted after publication, the best practice is to quickly fix any mistake and to publish the new version with a correction or an explanatory note. In rare cases, if we can't sort out the problem immediately, an interim note on top of an article may alert readers that something has been challenged and that we are still seeking clarification. There may also be cases - such as a duplicated article - where we can simply redirect traffic automatically to a single version.
Short of unpublishing, it is acceptable to reduce the visibility of a story on the site until the problem can be fixed.
In any of these situations, editors and producers should consult with the news desk, the day news editor or the standards editor.