Bloggers running into trouble during internships.
ON the first day of his internship last year, Andrew McDonald created a Web site for himself. It never occurred to him that his bosses might not like his naming it after the company and writing in it about what went on in their office.
For Mr. McDonald, the Web log he created, “I’m a Comedy Central Intern,” was merely a way to keep his friends apprised of his activities and to practice his humor writing. For Comedy Central, it was a corporate no-no — especially after it was mentioned on Gawker.com, the gossip Web site, attracting thousands of new readers.
“Not even a newborn puppy on a pink cloud is as cute as a secret work blog!” chirped Gawker, giddily providing the link to its audience.
But Comedy Central disagreed, asking him to change the name (He did, to “I’m an Intern in New York”) and to stop revealing how its brand of comedic sausage is stuffed.
Dumb, dumb, dumb. But a rookie mistake. You soon learn the cardinal rule, which is: Don’t Shit Where You Eat. There’s a reason that I’m anonymous, and also circumspect about where I work: if my bosses knew that I was writing a blog which occasionally referenced them, I could get fired. Also, I might have a hard time getting a job if I were “out” as a blogger, because interviewers might wonder, rightly, whether I might carelessly reveal privileged information or take a public position that was at odds with my employer’s or client’s.
There are circumstances in which it can be beneficial to be “out.” This was a topic that was discussed at Pro-Choice Bingo, where pretty much everyone but me was out and the question of posting photos taken there came up. I asked that my face not be shown. Most of the people there were either students, making a living from writing, or in the kinds of jobs where their blogging didn’t really matter. Scott Lemieux, an assistant professor at Hunter, said that his blog probably helped him in his job because it got his name out there and gave him opportunities to do things like write an upcoming article for The American Prospect on (IIRC — sorry, Scott) the case against the case against Roe. But he acknowledged that it’s a thorny issue for non-tenured faculty. He sticks pretty close to his area of expertise on LGM, but other non-tenured faculty — Bitch, Ph.D., for example — write extensively about their private lives and on topics that could not only be damaging when tenure decisions are made, but could also affect the way their students view them. So, they remain anonymous.
If you’re in the corporate world, too, it’s important to remember that when using company equipment, you have no free-speech rights:
“It is important that corporations make a choice as to what type of blogging they will allow,” said Alfred C. Frawley III, director of the intellectual property practice group at the law firm Preti Flaherty in Portland, Me.
While there are differences in laws among jurisdictions, from a legal perspective, he said, it is generally accepted that companies have the right to impose controls on their employees’ use of computers and other equipment used for communication.
As for content — information generated within a company — the law also allows employers to set limits, even on airing the company laundry outside the office, he said. Private employees do not receive the protection of the First Amendment because there is no government action involved, he said.
“If an employee deviates from the policy, it may be grounds for termination,” Mr. Frawley said.
My firm, luckily, is too small to have an IT person and too cheap to pay to have a freelancer trolling through hard drives and internet histories. Nevertheless, I’m careful to delete my cookies and files every night before I leave. I also don’t use firm email for personal communications — I’ve done too many document reviews where I’ve seen highly personal (sometimes pornographic) emails, some of which had been deleted (because they never go away) as part of a document request. And we see the ones that were deemed relevant (the porn one, I’m sure, was left in as character assassination), so we’re not seeing everything that was pulled from that person’s account. Though I’m sure their bosses are very interested in that.
But wait! This story is in the Style section, so that means the Times is just waiting to drop a cooked-up “trend” in your lap:
The problem for the employers is that, in a few highly publicized cases, public airing of workplace shenanigans has proved to be lucrative — and young people entering the workplace know it.
“The Devil Wears Prada,” Lauren Weisberger’s veiled account of her time working as an assistant to Anna Wintour, the Vogue editor, ushered in the modern “underling-tell-all” genre, abetted by other revenge-of-the-employee tales like “The Nanny Diaries,” by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus. Both became best sellers that will be showing up on movie screens, with “Devil” opening next month.
Busted bloggers like Jessica Cutler (a former Capitol Hill intern whose blog, Washingtonienne, is now a novel), Nadine Haobsh (a former beauty editor whose blog Jolie in NYC earned her a two-book deal) and Jeremy Blachman (a lawyer whose blog Anonymous Lawyer is being released as “Anonymous Lawyer: A Novel” this summer) were all interns, entry-level employees and worker bees who traded up on in-the-trade secrets.
The generation entering the work world has noticed.
“Everybody I’ve read about that got fired for having a blog is on to such great things,” said Kelly Kreth, 36, who was fired from her job as the marketing and public relations director at a real estate firm in Manhattan last fall for blogging about her co-workers.
That’s because you only read about the ones who have gone on to great things, Kelly. Or, those are the only ones you choose to remember. Of course, we know that the Times is using your blinkered view of the world to bolster its “trend” finding. Not everybody gets a book contract out of it; some people just get a pink slip.