Should I delete this story?

By | June 27th, 2012

One of the things I love about new media is that there’s a “delete” button. If you screw up a blog post, you can always go back and fix it — or erase the entire thing.

Maybe it’s my journalism school training, but I’ve never removed a whole post.

Today, I just might.

Here’s the story. (And if the link goes nowhere, then I’ve obviously already erased it.) It involved a woman traveling alone in the Caribbean who had an uncomfortable experience during a transfer from her hotel to the airport.

The guest described a fellow passenger in a way some found offensive, because it called attention to his race. I received a fair amount of criticism for allowing her to say what she did, but most of the venom was directed toward her.

She contacted me Monday evening, demanding that I remove all references to her identity.

That would effectively gut the entire post. As I see it, I only have two options: leave it as is or delete it.

I don’t know what to do.

The back story

Before publishing the article, I had several exchanges with the traveler. She told me her story and while researching her case, I found that she had shared her problem on numerous other sites, revealing some or all of her identity.

I contacted her online agency on her behalf, and it answered her complaint, denying her further compensation.

She wasn’t happy with the agency’s firm “no” and asked if there was anything else she could do. Yes, I replied: I could write something about her case. I asked if I could do so, and she agreed.

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I mediate many more cases than I write about, and had planned to let this one slide. But sometimes, if a traveler is very insistent, I can be persuaded to move a case into my “cover this” file.

My recollection of our correspondence is that this woman was keen on having something written about her allegedly dangerous Caribbean vacation. In the end, I decided to post something because it served as a cautionary tale about safety and the importance of good planning that other consumers could benefit from.

The comments

On the day the post appeared, I was traveling, so I didn’t have time to read every comment that appeared. I normally do. Also, the automatic notification system from Disqus — it emails me every comment that appears — had mysteriously stopped working a few days before. As a result, I didn’t fully appreciate the tone of the responses until this traveler urged me to read them carefully on Monday.

I have to say, I was shocked. And embarrassed.

One of the comments crossed a line. It suggested that the traveler should have been murdered on her vacation. That person had already made another questionable comment on another post.

I deleted the comment and blacklisted the commenter.

Many of other commenters were — how do I say this nicely? — unkind. They accused me of having written about this case to generate page views (wrong — cat videos work much better) and that she was a racist with entitlement issues.

I don’t know the traveler personally, but I can see how her comments might be interpreted in that way.

If I had it to do over again, I would have not published her remark about a “dark-colored man waiting inside the mini-bus.” It was a distraction from the real issue, which is that she simply felt unsafe.

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In terms of the tone of her emails, I’m not sure if I could have or should have changed anything. Fact is, she felt the online agency should have done more for her, and she was mad about it.

The fallout

The traveler is upset because even though she gave me explicit permission to write about her case, she thinks that doesn’t include the right to use her full name.

I disagree. I use full names on this site when I write about consumer problems and always have. That’s disclosed in my frequently asked questions section. (After our exchange, I sharpened the language to specify that it’s a full name, not just a first name or initials.)

She appears to be afraid that the anger from the comments will spill over into her business and personal life. I certainly wouldn’t want that, either.

I’m really troubled by the comments. Whenever the remarks turn angry and personal, someone will email me to say, “Chris, don’t let your site turn into another FlyerTalk” — a reference to the often unfiltered and rude comments that appear on that site.

But on this particular post, the comments are worse than anything I’ve seen on FlyerTalk. I should have jumped in sooner to say, “People! We are better than this.” Too bad I was driving a car most of the day.

So do I delete the whole thing or leave it up?

Those of you who know me also know that I’m all about owning my mistakes. They are instructive. They keep our egos in check. They are, as Salvador Dalí would say, almost always of a sacred nature. Although the post is factually correct and I followed the right procedure, there have been unintended consequences. I feel bad about that.

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But deleting the post would set a bothersome precedent. If I spike the story, any reader who is unhappy with the way a post turned out could ask me to do the same. It would also fundamentally change the way this site is viewed online — not as a reliable record of consumer grievances, but as yet another site where reputation management operatives can ply their trade.

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