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Monday, March 03, 2008

The most trusted name

Today's episode of Little Miss Know-it-All: Shut him up! Dammit, we can't shut him up? Maybe we should hand him a megaphone instead.

CNN is the latest employer to prove itself completely incapable of dealing with bloggers. You see, they discovered that one of their producers was blogging in his spare time. (GASP.) Even worse, he occasionally wrote about the television industry! (DOUBLE GASP.)

They immediately fired him
, ensuring that his dangerous opinions would never see the light of day again.

HAHAHAHAHAHA. The only thing this did was draw more attention to the guy's blog. They might as well have put up a billboard telling people to check it out.

Who would have thought that firing him would make the situation worse? This was certainly an unpredictable result. And who would have thought that until he was fired, he didn't mention who he worked for or what went on at work? Until CNN decided to draw attention to him, he was really nothing more than a blogger with a less-than-favourable view of Oprah. Firing him turned him into a star.


This situation could have been dealt with quietly and politely. It reminds me of the CBC's heavy-handed plan to scare its staff out of blogging about their kids.

Employers: You will never be able to win by pretending that you can control everything your staff say in their spare time. And frankly, I think it's dangerous for you to even suggest that when your staff blog, they're representing you. If anything, you should be pushing for more general understanding that personal blogs are, uh, personal blogs. (Duh.) You never ever want it to seem like someone else's personal blog represents your own opinions. Firing people for going off-script on their own blogs just feeds into this idea. The more you try to insist that your staff follow the party line, the more you open yourself to criticism about the one or two weirdos you don't know about. Instead, you ought to be making it very very clear that personal blogs DON'T represent the company and that you have absolutely nothing to do with them.

Employees: I'm not saying that you should be able to post anything you want on your personal blog. In fact, there are a few things I won't defend you for:

1. Posting trade secrets or details about clients. This just isn't cool. Whether it's medical information about your patients in ways that identify them or the recipe for your boss's secret blend of herbs and spices, it's not OK. You can still write about what you do, but you can't give away information that's not yours to give.

2. Pretending to speak for your employer. Again, not cool. This turns your happy little personal blog into something that's half work, half personal. It's not fair to your readers or to your boss. It gets into what I was saying to employers a bit earlier: personal blogs should never ever be seen as extensions of the person's work. If anything, you need to make it really clear that nothing you say on your blog is your employer's opinion. This doesn't mean you can never write about work or use the expertise you've gained at work, but it does mean that you should be smart about the way you do it.

3. Saying rude things about people at work on your oh-so-secret blog. For pete's sake, find a more creative way to do this. If you're a writer, you can probably figure out a way. It seems like I'm always reading about people who've been fired for posting really stupid things about their bosses. I can never figure out why they couldn't come up with a way to write around the situation.

None of this is intended to show that you can't write about things you do at work. In fact, some of my favourite blogs are from people who've figured out how to write about their industries:

One day we will all figure this blogging thing out. Until then, I'm sure several other media companies (why is it always the media companies?) will make stars out of their former employees, who will quickly be snapped up by the competition. Great work, guys.


scribe said...

Wow, thanks for this link. I'm sending his blog to everyone I know. It just reinforces and reaffirms why I left journalism.

Nicole said...

Nobody ever said the CNN guys were smart, no?
But that they are SUCH Morons.....unbelievable :S!

lisa marie said...

It's kinda funny, I was explaing blogs to my husband's boss and how I don't want hubby to get fired over it and I told him about that one lady who got fired and now lives off her blog. He promptly decided we should make arrangements to get hubby fired and share the profits of the blog. :) So, since he knows I blog, and his wife reads it, I especially careful. :)

towniebastard said...

The issue of work and blogging has been one I've wrestled with for awhile. I simply avoid it all together. It's simpler that way. Frustrating, to be sure, because there are interesting things that happen at work, but I think it's simply safer to not write about them.

I think communications people walk a particular tightrope when it comes to blogging about work issues. Because we're so often the "face" or "voice" of our agency or department (especially in government), there's the risk that someone will say "well, this communications person is saying this, thus it is the policy of that place." Which is obviously not always the case.