Should Newspapers Give Readers the Power to Hide News They Don't Want to See?

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The Guardian has created a tool that lets readers disappear Olympics coverage, raising questions about the role of editors in an age of self-curation.

Click the arrows to toggle between "Before" and "After" screenshots of The Guardian's homepage.

Recognizing that plenty of people, and perhaps Londoners in particular, are already sick of Olympics coverage, The Guardian is giving its readers the ability to filter news of the Games and see the normal Guardian homepage. By clicking a "Hide Olympics" button, an Olympics-news module collapses, bringing up the regular stream of Guardian fare. (Olympics news may continue to appear elsewhere on the homepage outside of the content-specific box, such as on the most-read list, so you can't entirely escape it.)

The Guardian has played this card before, allowing readers a similar option during the royal wedding last April. Such tools acknowledge that not every reader wants in on the mania -- that some stories become so hot, so omnipresent, readers would like a mute button. In doing so, The Guardian redistributes a small amount of the power of editors over to readers. It's similar, in many ways, to what a lot of newspapers and magazines do in providing both international and national editions online, just as they have done for years in print.

But what if a news site took this further? What if instead of allowing readers to block coverage of a sporting or royal spectacle, they gave readers a button to hide news from an ongoing government scandal, trial, or even, war? Would we want newspapers to say to readers, your choice on these ones too?

Another instance of a newspaper trying out this kind of reader-led curation shows what this might look like, and can help us think about whether such mute buttons would, in fact, be troubling. Earlier this year the Norwegian tabloid Dagbladet created a button that allowed readers to hide coverage of the Anders Breivik trial, acknowledging perhaps some Olympics-like exhaustion, but also, differently, perhaps that many Norwegian readers found the events and related coverage traumatic, and did not want to encounter it while perusing a tabloid site for regular, fun reading.

And I have to say, this doesn't strike me as a problem. Readers already have the ability online to pick the kinds of stories, writers, and publications they want to read. How to make important content compelling and attractive -- that's the job of writers, editors, and other creators online. But giving people greater power to choose what they see on your site -- that's just bringing the Internet's self-curation ethos home.

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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