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Monday, August 04, 2008

"If you identify yourself, or could in any way be identified..."

Today's episode of Little Miss Know-it-All: Just don't say anything. That way, WE don't look bad.

Remember the CNN producer who was fired for blogging in his spare time?

Well, CNN has finally come up with a blogging policy to guide its employees' activities online. Apparently, they wanted to make sure it was restrictive enough to allow the guy to be fired. There is nothing more embarrassing than having to backtrack and say that a person was fired under a policy that didn't exist at the time and, even when it was developed, wasn't tough enough to allow firing based on what he actually wrote! What a black mark on the company THAT would be!

Here's the policy.

The gist of it is that CNN would like to control what its employees say on their own time. All of its employees. Even behind-the-scenes people like shooters. Even freelancers, who aren't employees at all but are still covered by this ridiculous policy. Some of the more interesting parts:

We’ve gotten a number of questions from CNN staff wanting clarification of CNN policy on communicating publicly about our work, or on news or public affairs -- on the internet. In Blogs. In Chatrooms. On video sharing sites. On social networking sites.

I sure hope these guys don't write anything that the public will read. This is a disastrous attempt at parallelism. In fact, the entire policy is such a grammatical mess that my shoulder muscles seized up several times while I was trying to read it.

[I]f you’re discussing things that are in the news, keep in mind you could be seen as representing CNN, and therefore you should not comment on the issues CNN covers.

I love this. I assume that CNN sees every blog as representing the official views of the blogger's employer. This is helpful. It means there are no personal blogs, only official company websites.

CNN’ers are encouraged to visit Second Life, just keep in mind it’s a public place and the same rules (listed above) apply as they would to “real” public life.

Also: CNN'ers are encouraged to play Scrabulous, WoW and online chess!


Yes. But you should notify your supervisor about it, to have it cleared as a non-conflict for your work. Your supervisor may choose to then have it cleared at another level or by S&P. And again, you shouldn’t post commentary on anything you might cover in your work or CNN may report on, or write about the CNN workplace or post CNN material without permission by a senior CNN manager.

I really have a problem with managers "approving" personal blogs. Why would any company want to approve someone's blog? I absolutely don't understand this. When some idiot posts racist material on the Internet, the last thing you want is the media reporting that the guy's blog is company-approved. You want to be able to say that his blog is entirely personal and the company had nothing to do with it.

No commentary on anything you might cover in your work. I agree with this one. A health reporter probably shouldn't be blogging about health trends. It blurs the line between your personal blog and the work you do for your employer. A good rule of thumb: If you're writing something that looks too similar to something you might produce for your employer, it's probably best to use it for work instead of your blog.

No commentary on anything CNN may report on. Hmmm. I'm not sure how anyone would predict this. Staff are now supposed to know in advance what the news will be? This is just stupid.


Again, on these sites only write about something CNN would not report on.

"Would not report on" is not the same as "may report on". I'm not sure which was intended here, but really, it doesn't matter. I don't know how you could possibly write only about things CNN would not report on. Is there a list of topics CNN refuses to do stories about? I've watched their coverage; I know they report on just about everything. (Check out this recent story about yo-yos.)

It's good to have policies about self-expression, but this isn't the way to write them. I still think that Name of Employer Withheld has one of the best policies I've seen. To summarise:

Employees may say what they want about matters of public interest. However, they cannot use their jobs to give their personal opinions added weight.

Common sense and normal journalistic ethics are all that CNN needs. They just need to figure out how to get some.

I wrote more about reporters' blogs here.


son of gaia said...

CNN's policy is appalling, your article about it is fantastic.

scribe said...

Ok, so now I hate the CBC and I hate Fox News and I hate CNN. Next?

Megan said...

Now you can apply for Canadian citizenship.