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Should You Have A Blogging Policy?
By Neville Hobson
All is not well at broadcaster CNN, if the story of Chez Pazienza is anything to go by. Pazienza, a producer on CNN's American Morning TV show until a few weeks ago, was fired for blogging.
At least, that's what it looked like until Pazienza posted his account of what led up to his dismissal by CNN.
I first heard of this story via a post by Erin Byrne on Burson-Marsteller's Digital Perspective blog.
In FIR #320, Shel and I talked about it, focusing a large part of our discussion on key points such as Erin made in her post:
[...] It seems very 2002 for a media property to fire someone over blogging, especially given blog readership and how many media outlets are encouraging their journalists to blog more. But then I read some of the producer's posts, both on his personal blog
and on Huffington Post
. He covers topics with a strong personal point of view and no mincing of words, and could leave readers wondering how his personal perspective influences his work for CNN. To be fair, I don't believe he had ever disclosed his employer on his blog, but he also didnít have any disclaimers protecting them either.
[...] it did make me realize how critical it is for companies to develop and distribute a policy on employee blogging. What are the rules of engagement, and what are the consequences for violating them?
According to Pazienza's account, it looks as though CNN has no rules of engagement while there are consequences for violators of those 'no rules'.
In reading Pazienza's story, it becomes clear that he was let go by the broadcaster for breaking a clause in his contract of employment directly related to his side interest of contributing content to the news and commentary site Huffington Post; he had not informed CNN of his activity with that site:
[...] During my final conversation with [my boss] Ed Litvak and a representative from HR, they hammered home a single line in the CNN employee handbook which states that any writing done for a "non-CNN outlet" must be run through the network's standards and practices department. They asked if I had seen this decree. As a matter of fact I had, but only about a month previously, when I stumbled across a copy of that handbook on someone's desk and thumbed through it. I let them know exactly what I had thought when I read the rule, namely that it was staggeringly vague and couldn't possibly apply to something as innocuous as a blog. (I didn't realize until later that CNN had canned a 29-year-old intern for having the temerity to write about her work experiences - her positive work experiences - in a password-protected online journal a year earlier.) I told both my boss and HR representative that a network which prides itself on being so internet savvy - or promotes itself as such, ad nauseam - should probably specify blogging and online networking restrictions in its handbook. I said that they canít possibly expect CNN employees, en masse, to not engage in something as popular and timely as blogging if they don't make themselves perfectly clear.
I find it hard to understand how someone so well versed in the way things work in American mainstream broadcasting media and who has been a blogger since 2006 - he's certainly no blogging neophyte - could possibly imagine that his non-disclosure of his involvement with the Huffington Post would have no consequences when discovered.
Should Pazienza have been fired?
On the face it, he violated a clause in his contract so it looks like yes. I don't think it's that simple, though, and I'm sure legal brains in the US would have some interesting views.
Plus there seems to be a lot of subjective opinion out there, much of it political, so how can I possibly comment in muddy water?
And on the other hand, what of CNN?
Pazienza makes a good point when he says that CNN should include in the employee handbook specific reference to blogging (and other social media too) in terms of what's allowed and what's not. Just to make everything very clear to everyone.
I find it equally hard to understand why they don't already.
Maybe they ought to take a look for some ideas at what the BBC established some years ago with regard to employee blogging and the ground rules for journalists, producers and others.
Comprehensive, clear and wholly transparent - it's all out there on the internet, not purely available behind the employee firewall.
The consequences for CNN in not making it clear are an ex-employee telling a far from flattering story, resulting in more negative commentary and opinion - and the lawyers haven't entered the picture yet - which shines a spotlight on their own lack of foresight.
About the Author:
Neville Hobson is the author of the popular NevilleHobson.com blog which focuses on business communication and technology. Neville is a UK-based communicator, blogger and podcaster. He helps companies use effective communication to achieve their business goals. Visit Neville Hobson's blog: NevilleHobson.com.