Monday, March 3, 2008

don't be a dooce

So. DailyBiz made the mainstream trade press today. Good news for his blogging career. Dubious news for his other career. I can feel tremors set off by HR departments all over town logging onto ad blogs for the first time, trying to suss out if the writer is on their payroll.

And what if we're outed?

In a comment to an earlier post exploring the question of anonymity, DearJaneSample summed up what most of us bloggers hope, which is that consequences would be fairly benign:
I imagine that it would come out via an "enemy" because if you are my friend no way are you blowing my cover. Which means it would probably be spun in a negative light and it would be someone who had an axe to grind.
As such at this point I would be in damage control mode, and I'd have to tell my boss, because it is best that it came from me ... rather then have them find out from someone else, and I would get the dreaded "invite to the boardroom".
I would not stop blogging, but who knows how it would change or how my agency would want to be involved or not? I think they might be excited about the association ... but I would probably have to "edit" some posts.
Adweek contends that "the legal system still works in favor of the bloggers." But I've been doing a little research this morning. And what I've turned up seems to indicate otherwise.

"The difference between blogging about your pets and blogging about who the office skank is? One can get you in serious trouble," reports an online article exploring the question with attorneys.

A lawyer personally invested in the continuance of my job opportunities (hi, hon) warns that if you work for a company in one of the 8 states with at-will employment law, you can be fired at any moment for any reason at all. As long as standard discrimination laws aren't violated. New York happens to be one of these states.

Turns out blogging about work has been cause for termination ever since blogs were called weblogs. In 2002, a web designer was let go because she wrote satirical accounts of her experiences at a dot-com startup on her blog called Dooce. (Which is why being fired for blogging is being "dooced.") She warns fellow bloggers:
I started this website in February 2001. A year later I was fired from my job for this website because I had written stories that included people in my workplace. My advice to you is BE YE NOT SO STUPID.
The growing list of dooced employees (according to, what else, a blog):

1) Michael Hanscom, fired in October 2003 as a temp at Microsoft for posting a picture of Apple Macintosh G5s sitting on the loading dock at MS.
2) Troutgirl, fired from Friendster for blogs that included references to her work.
3) Matthew Brown, fired from Starbuck's for posting comments about the coffee chain, its customers and managers on his personal blog in September 2004.
4) Penny Cholmondeley, terminated from her post as Nunavut (Canada) Tourism marketing officer after someone anonymously complained about her blog to her employer, which included passing references to the locale.
5) Iain Murray, a Brit working in the US, fired from his post as Director of Research at an NPO in January 2003, apparently in part due to blogging at work.
6) Steve Olafson, fired from his job reporting for the Houston Chronicle after another reporter outed him as the anonymous force behind a blog that was critical of local politicians and other news sources.
7) Daniel P. Finney, also fired from a job as a reporter, at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch when they discovered he was blogging, in part about his news assignments.
8) Jessica Cutler (Washingtonienne), fired after blogging for a total of two weeks about her sexual exploits with six partners, including a few highly placed government staffers.
9) Amy Norah Burch, who was fired from her job as undergraduate coordinator for the Committee on Degrees in Social Studies at Harvard University, after "a handful of unflattering references to her workplace interspersed throughout the site’s archives raised eyebrows at the department." May 2004.
10) QueenofSky, who was fired from Delta Airlines after she posted pictures of herself in Flight Attendant uniform ("risque" poses?).

Last month, a CNN producer was fired for blogging about media, which he still does. Today's post is titled A Jihad of Fun.

No ad grunts that I could suss out, but the Adweek article today quotes an agency exec who suggests "shops will start to crack down on posts" pointing out that "it's a small universe of people."

There's no federal case to set precedent yet. (Be the first! It's one way to go down in history.) But it appears that First Amendment law does not protect bloggers dishing dirt about employers--even if employers aren't specifically named. Alas, it seems if you work for a place with pockets deep enough to file a John Doe lawsuit , the bottom line is this: You can blog about work. But only if you're ready to be your own boss.

12 comments:

dearjanesample said...

I read the adweek article and it's bloody "douchebaggery" to quote George Parker. I especially LOVE the line: "Although some bloggers are responsible, others display little journalistic vetting of rumor and hearsay. For the most part, these bloggers are cloaked in anonymity, unlike journalists who attach their names and reputations to the validity of their reporting."

1) I am not a JOURNALIST. I never claimed to be. However, that does not mean what I write is any less "truthful" then what a "real journalist" would write. And let's remember that not all Journalist are responsible or honest - some write shit, others take bribes, others plagiers and others have articles full of "official sources" but never reveal who they are.

2) I do have a reputation that I attach to my blog, and I can screw it up just like a "real journalist". I have built a brand around my ananmyous identity and the backlash would be JUST as serious as for me as a "real journalist".

I would have left this response on the adweek's article - but they in their journalist integrity" don't have that fun new comments feature like blogs do.

Oh and congrats to Daily biz

Anonymous said...

Sadly, most U.S. citizens are unaware that there is no First Amendment protection in the workplace, unless that workplace is a government office.

Rob Buccino said...

Where would we in the agency business be without our requisite daily quaff of paranoia? Perhaps we should have flavors and sizes, like lattes and cappuccini at Starbucks: "I'll have a grande double-shot of paranoia today."

Or is it paranoia when there really are people out to get you?

It's hard to see the keyboard and the screen when one is constantly having to look over one's shoulder.

Stay brave and true.

daily biz said...

Thank God that I have some attorneys in the family. After Adweek did me this favor, my life may never be the same...

In all seriousness, DJS hits it on the head: my journalistic integrity is the same as any full-blown journalist (we both use anonymous sources, I just have the intellectual integrity not to make up stupid reasons that those sources wish to remain anonymous when the real reason - as well as know - is that they want to keep their job).

Good thing I don't post about current clients...THAT could get me into real trouble...

Anonymous said...

Did anyone ever really believe that blogging shielded you from legal issues? If a blogger commits slander or defamation, they would certainly be liable like anyone else. If a blogger plotted terrorist acts, you can bet Homeland Security would be all over them.

I was under the impression that certain people are currently angry because they don’t like being called out by an anonymous entity.

Auntie Christ said...

The snowball has started to roll and these volleys apply to the posters, too. Companies with decent IT departments who can afford to check all web traffic will be scaring the be-jeezuz out of their employees. These forums most likely are intended to be chat between industry folks in far-flung places sharing a virtual beer and trading war stories, but as the ineptitude of management grows, so does anger on the posters' parts. Which blogger lost the Walmart account in the stupidest way possible? Which blogger made his boyfriend a highly-paid appointment and flaunted his wealth in a shelter mag? Which blogger shouted down his entire creative department with a demeaning memo? Physician, heal thyself.

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

Jane, thanks for this, and for your sage follow up post

@anonymi-yes, I think most people (bloggers) have been operating under the assumption that privacy acts & free speech extended to them.

@ Rob--this all began with a few words of advice from a noted NYC pitch consultant ;)

@DB-congrats on your "brand" being championed by "real" (blog-hating) journalists. Good thing you've got free legal counsel at the ready.

@Auntie--Right. Now it will be even harder to get IT to service computers, as they'll be so busy surveilling them.

Studio Maven said...

I did something exceedingly dumb awhile back. Actually responded to an ad for a job that was at the place I was currently employed! Needless to say I was dismissed on rather vague terms, got a minuscule severance and had to sign the "no talkie about agency paper". Soooooo stupid.

Studio Maven said...

BTW Auntie, that was one of your most concise jams ever. Ad Broad, sorry about the morose post the other day at Jane's. The martini's have made the proper adjustments to my attitude.

Post from home!

Auntie Christ said...

Maven, would have been par for the course if they offered you the job -- at a lower salary! Hi-larious, those wankers!

Studio Maven said...

No they didn't, but I unwittingly trained my replacement for two weeks! Don't mean to be big-headed, but that person was barely half as good as I was.

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

Maven, that sounds like an episode of Office. Esp. the training your replacement part. And Auntie's wrap-up scene--brilliant.
Martini therapy- bottoms up.