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Bungling of old United Airlines bankruptcy story prompts debate

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  1. Newsgathering
The Tribune Co. probably needn't worry about a libel suit after last week's mishap over an archived article on the 2002…

The Tribune Co. probably needn’t worry about a libel suit after last week’s mishap over an archived article on the 2002 bankruptcy of United Airlines, The New York Times reports, but the incident — which temporarily cost United the bulk of its share value — underscores a risk news groups face as they "adapt to the Internet age."

According to The Times, the six-year-old Chicago Tribune story entitled "United Airlines Files for Bankruptcy" turned up on Sept. 7 as a "Most Viewed" article on the Web site of the (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel, which is also a Tribune paper. The story was not dated.

Google News, which has an automated system that regularly scans news sites for articles to add to its index, spotted the article and picked it up without recognizing it came from the paper’s archive.

Then, The Times reports, Bloomberg latched onto the story. "Within minutes, United shares crashed," Miguel Helft writes. "Trading in the shares was halted, and they later recovered most of their value."

Now the Securities and Exchange Commission is looking into the incident and, Helft reports, Google and Tribune are faulting each other — for relying on technology that can’t recognize an old story, or for neglecting to put a date on the article in the first place. Either way, the muddle offers one more cautionary tale for the information era.