When blogging is a firing offense

A senior producer for CNN, Chez Pazienza, says he was fired last week for keeping a personal blog, Deus Ex Malcontent. The network won’t discuss the specifics, but a spokeswoman told the New York Times, “CNN has a policy that says employees must first get permission to write for a non-CNN outlet.” Pazienza says the policy is “staggeringly vague” and it never occurred to him that it covered blogging. His version of events suggests that CNN took action for two reasons. First, he blogged under his own name. While his blog doesn’t identify him as a CNN employee, his connection to the company would not have been a secret. And second, his blog entries express his views about politics and the media.

Whether a respected and loyal CNN producer of four years, like myself, could’ve gotten off with a warning had I chosen to write about, say, my favorite pasta sauce recipes, who knows. I’m dead sure though that my superiors never concerned themselves with my ability or inability to remain objective at work, given my strong opinions; they worried only about an appearance of bias (specifically, a liberal bias), and apparently they worried about it more than any potential fallout from firing a popular blogger with an audience that was already large and was sure to grow much larger when news of his firing put him in the national spotlight.

What this case really spotlights is the need for news organizations to have a clear policy about employees’ personal blogs. At a minimum, the policy should be explicit about whether the employer must be informed of all blogging activity; whether there are limits on the content of personal blogs; and what sanctions employees can face for violating the guidelines. If your news organization has a blogging policy, please share.