May 25, 2006

"Interns? No Bloggers Need Apply."

That's not a very good headline for this NYT article. The article is not about the complete rejection of blogging interns, but about how young people who are at ease with blogging need to learn that the organization is unlikely to accept it if you use your inside information for blog material.

Haven't writers always exploited the knowledge they've gained from access to things other people don't know about? It's the way of the writer, isn't it? The difference with blogging is that you publish your writing instantly, using information you just came across. That's what gets you fired. And it's not just about the workplace. Writers also exploit their personal relationships and use the secret info they get from having friends and lovers. Blogging's got to be riskier here as well, because you don't have the time lag and the elaborate processing of the material.


archshrk said...

There's inside information and then there's inspired by experience. Scott Adams made a living talking about workplace experiences without revealing business secrets.

Sharing personal info is a little trickier. If the focus is you and what you did, it's less of a problem than if you focus on the other person or people. Anonymous descriptions and changing names helps but is still risky. They may blog about you!

Scott Wickstein said...

I think Scott Adams might be a bad analogy- he'd already left his cubicle hive by the time he started Dilbert, and lots of his ideas since then are from readers.

Going from his blogs and books, I'd say Adams has rather lost interest in the corporate world, and just uses reader gossip as his source of material.

That was a goodish article by the New York Times, but I wonder how businesses go about writers who write anonymously and use a bit of discretion. I don't think you can call Cutler representatitive of most workplace bloggers.

Wickedpinto said...

The NYT is one of the biggest outlets of annonymous, information shared about personal relationships, and internal secrets. Thats why in the next few years, some of their writers are gonna end up in jail.

This is right in line with the ACLU gag rule.

Now If bloggers are engaging in a competing commercial effort and sharing their information while working for NYT thats different, but if they are just sustaining costs (which most bloggers can't, and those that do, don't do so always) then I see no reason for the company to think this isn't gonna be seen as hypocracy.

chuck b. said...

I think maybe you don't quite apprehend the magnitude of anxiety about protecting intellectual property and inside information that currently prevails in corporate America. I've seen remarkable attitude changes in this area in just the last ten years that I've been working. It verges on paranoiac sometimes.

Anyone wanna back me up?

Ann Althouse said...

Chuck: I understand employers worrying about this, but it's plain stupid to worry about the mere fact that someone openly has a blog, since anyone can start a blog in 5 minutes and anyone might have an anonymous blog. Someone with a blog is actually more reliable: you can look at the blog and see what sort of blog it is. Everyone else is more of a blog risk. For example, I have this blog. Shoild the University of Wisconsin Law School worry about what harm I might do it with this blog? If a blog is going to hurt the Law School some day, what are the chances that it's going to be mine?

QU 3L said...

Isn't the real problem just how new all of this is? The fact of the matter is that blogs are an ill-defined and all-encompassing medium.

Most people know not to reveal corporate secrets- but there's other sorts of less secret information that businesses would probably rather not have their employees talk about. The apt analagy here is sharing private details of a friends life.

And you're right Prof. Althouse, the real issue is that of timing. Writing a book which mentions some contentious corporate meeting years after the fact is unlikely to draw as much ire as writing about that same contentious meeting several hours after it's concluded.

The social norms of the internet and the blogosphere are still in the process of developing, which makes this all the more difficult- I just don't see this as much of a speech issue.

Richard Dolan said...

What came through to me in the NYT article was the mix of immaturity and fantasy that seems to be at work with the class of 20-something bloggers that the article is about.

Employers have always been concerned about protecting proprietary or confidential information from disclosure. And they also have always wanted to protect their public image. The article suggests that the class of 20-somethings it portrays lack the maturity to understand where those lines get drawn. Some businesses -- law firms, for example -- have an obvious need to maintain confidentiality about much of the information obtained from or about clients. And lawyers, being in a service business, are not likely to be thrilled if some junior person starts telling the world in a blog that senior partner X is crude, or greedy, or worse, or that the firm is a hell-hole to work at.

The fantasy part had to do with the notion that someone who tells all in a blog is, ipso facto, a writer of talent. Write a racy, tell-all blog about your employer that gets you fired -- and you'll be rich and famous! Don't count on it. The article offers tales of book deals, first novels and the like to a few bloggers, but I suspect that the actual details are less glamorous (and far less lucrative) than the tone of the article suggests. None of the publishers were named, but first novels by unknown writers are about as bad a bet in the publishing business as there is.

Ann asks about all of this from the employers' side -- should an employer take greater comfort in hiring an up-front blogger whose writing can be checked, than it would in hiring others who might be blogging anonymously? That idea doesn't do much for me. There's nothing to prevent the hypothetical up-front blogger (even you, Ann) from maintain a second, anonymous blog where the really racy stuff gets posted.

What matters is not the "up-frontness" of an existing blog, but the maturity, judgment and character of the blogger. Can an employer trust this person, does he have the maturity to know what is off limits and what isn't, does he have the interest of the organization at heart or is he just out for himself? I don't think the fact of having a signed and clearly identified personal blog like Ann's would permit an employer to answer those questions in the affirmative. But the insights into the blogger's maturity, judgment and character that the contents of such a blog may reveal would obviously be relevant.

Hey said...

Blogs can be great ways of building a professional reputation. The hard part is that you're playing in the bigs with the whole world watching (and a permanent backup), and even very highly functional and intelligent young people are still learning. There's a very good chance of a career limiting move, but it's more in terms of experience in speaking in public rather than just age (many great examples of suicidal bloggorhea have been from 30 and 40 year olds).

While most of the law blogs are from experienced practitioners and professors, we have still seen people build their reputations from these sites, and many untenured junior professors have done great things with their blogs.

Companies will love your blog if it's somethign that they'd like to put in a full color ad in the WSJ. If you start dragging around internal conflicts... not so much. Your blog has to demonstrate skill and maturity, when most people are instead demonstrating a fumbling towards adulthood and life, and raw unedited emotion and reaction.

That's why a set of well maintained pseudonym that no one can trace to you (without access to your physical computer) is such a useful tool for getting used to life online. Don't blab about internal stuff. If your SO would dump you for it, your boss will can you, so STFU.