The online fall-out of the Daily Express apology to Madeleine McCann's family

 by Martin Belam, 19 March 2008

There is only one story about the media in today's media, and that is the story of the Daily Express making a front page apology to the family of missing Madeleine McCann.

Daily Express front page today

There is plenty of fall-out from the apology on the web as well, where the story was the lead item this morning, with the additional admission:

"Please note that, for legal reasons, we have disabled reader comments on this article".
Daily Express online apology

The effects are felt strongest if you try and use site search on the Express site. A search for 'Madeleine McCann' now turns up precisely 0 results - not even the apology.

Zero results

Searches for 'madeleine' or for 'mccann' were generating completely blank results sets as well. This is a problem for the Express, as it seems, according to their popular search list, that their readers search for little else.

Apparently, the top ten searches on the site are:

  • madeleine
  • Madeleine McCann
  • mccann
  • Princess Diana
  • Crossword
  • Kate Middleton
  • maddie
  • madeline
  • sunday express
Daily Express popular searches

That is, if you set any store by this data. Personally, I don't. These ten search terms, including the curiously blank one, have been the same on the site for over a month.

I've long found the list of popular searches on the Express site amusing, and so I have a script running on the currybetdotnet server which emails me when they change. That last happened 34 days ago, when 'special offers' was replaced by yet another synonym for the search for Madeleine McCann. This list is updated so infrequently by the Express that it isn't so much 'attention data', as inattention data.

Just because you can't search for material about the McCann case using the Express site search, doesn't mean that you can't still find it. A search on Google for something like ' hid the body mccann' provides plenty of examples of the kind of reporting that has got the Express into this mess.

Google results

(Plus - note The Time's opportunistic coverage of the discomfort of the Daily Express on Google)

The Times AdWords

When you click through on these results for Daily Express pages, the majority now lead to a page informing you that 'The article you are looking for does not exist. It may have been deleted'.. The fact that the URL is seems a little tasteless given the fact that Madeleine remains unfound.

They are all currently still available in Google's cache however, so it looks like someone at the Express needs to familiarise themselves with Google's emergency URL removal process.

Confess Kate story from the Sunday Express

Not everything has vanished from either. They appear to have missed some of their message board threads, which still include some virulent accusations of the McCann's guilt in the case. I am surprised whatever measures the paper took this morning didn't include content like this.

Daily Express comments

All of which goes to show that in an internet enabled media landscape, even printing a front page apology is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to retracting what you have published.

1 Comment

I somehow don't think the Express or the Star will come out of this badly in terms of readership or profits. They've got themselves mentioned far more widely today than they ever would have with a concerted marketing campaign. Any news is good news to this kind of paper...even if it cost them a settlement.


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