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Saturday, August 04, 2007

CBC is dumber than I thought

It is getting so bad, maybe I should start calling them Name of Broadcaster Withheld as the ultimate insult.

They want to set policies for employees' blogs. Not the official CBC blog, which broke the story, but personal blogs maintained by staff. And not just Peter Mansbridge and the people who you could say are the public face of the MotherCorp, but all staff. Now, any media organization as big as CBC has a ton of staff who have nothing to do with journalism (out of respect, I will not make a snarky joke here) but who pay invoices, answer phones, and generally are just everyday folks with jobs. CBC wants to make these non-journalists conform to CBC editorial values in their blogs.

It's a good thing I don't work for CBC anymore, so they have no control over what I say here on my personal blog that is neither reviewed nor controlled by my employer or anyone else: You guys are a bunch of morons. You discovered this nifty thing called the Internet and decided you wanted to use it as a "platform". You even tried to hitch your star to Facebook and still have mud (afterbirth?) on your faces. Now you want to control what your employees say in their free time. Good luck.

CBC doesn't need a separate policy about blogs. No employer does. Most large companies already have broad policies that use general terms to describe what employees can talk about. This is not that difficult. There are only two principles:

  1. Employees can say what they want about public issues.
  2. However, they can't use their jobs to give their personal opinions added weight.
Now, was that hard? I didn't think so.

You've probably already spotted the difficulty here. There's a world of difference between a file clerk's opinions about caribou hunting and the education minister's assistant's opinions about school space. (I am going to ignore the obvious no-nos like nurses blogging about patients in ways that identify people.) It's true that this is a sliding scale, and I always tell people to err on the side of caution. Well, it isn't really a scale so much as a two-dimensional chart.

First, the content of your comments matters. If you are speaking publicly about issues you deal directly with at work, it can confuse people. They won't be sure whether your statements carry the extra punch that would come if your employer was saying these things through you. In fact, they will often assume that you are speaking on behalf of your employer. I usually don't recommend that people become vocal about their personal opinions about work because of this potential for confusion.

Second, the forum of your comments matters. There is a big difference between talking to a friend at your house and giving a presentation to the prime minister in the House of Commons. Personal blogs are closer to the "friend's house" end of the scale for two reasons: they have limited readership and they are obviously not approved by the employer. By their very nature, they have limited credibility and have no support from anyone other than the writer. They don't pretend to speak on behalf of anyone else or to repeat any organization's talking points. That's what makes them, uh, personal blogs. (Duh.)

CBC is so terrified about the first part that they are proposing to upend the second part. Ironically, this will have the opposite effect they are hoping for. A blog that has your supervisor's stamp of approval becomes an official extension of your work. For an employer, there could be nothing worse than imagining that employees' random musings about mullets, photos of their kids and Twitter statuses could be considered official communications from head office.

This is so obvious that I can't believe CBC would actually want to approve anyone's blog. I read a lot of personal blogs, and no employer would ever want to be associated with any of them. Employees are people: they have personal lives and they like to write about the things that are important to them. Which makes the CBC look better: a page full of press releases or an honest blog about the ups and downs of working there?

You would think that the CBC would know this. They always say they're looking for "honesty" and "real people" instead of talking heads. Now I see that when it comes to their own employees, they can't wait to squash anything that's different.

UPDATED: Esther Enkin, acting CBC Editor-in-Chief, tries to make this better (HAHAHAHAHA):

Hi all: Just to set the record straight –the guidelines Tod refers to are just that - guidelines. Policies need to be approved by the Board.

As the digital world continues to expand, we are trying to provide guidance for CBC staff that is consistent with existing practices and ensure the same high ethical and quality standards that are hallmarks of CBC.
This particular set of guidelines is consistent with existing practice re outside work or publication - just as one must do now when publishing in traditional media.
As for this being “unsigned”, Jon Dube, a Director at sent this to his staff recently. In the accompanying note he said these guidelines came from the Editor in chief’s office. Not really anonymous.
As with all guidelines, there is always room for discussion.

Esther Enkin
Acting Editor in Chief


Cin said...

I am so ticked off about this I can barely think.

Paul said...

Nice piece! I'm glad people who aren't current employees care deeply about this too.