Friday, November 23, 2007

Watching what you write

It was interesting to note the “death” of an arctic blog that has happened in the last few days. Larry was always a pretty blunt blogger, which I enjoyed. He had controversial opinions and argued them well. If he had a fault, it’s that he didn’t update the blog enough for my liking, but hell, there was some solid craftsmanship in his writing. I’m prepared to wait awhile if the writing is good enough.

However, one thought always used to go through my mind when reading Larry’s blog. And that was “how much longer is he going to be able to get away with this?” Because he didn’t pull any punches. If there was shit going on in his community that he didn’t like, he said it. He was very blunt about it. And I knew that was going to piss someone off enough eventually that they would complain to his employer. And lo and behold, they did.

This marks at least the fourth incident I know of regarding northern bloggers getting into trouble for their writing with employers. Only one has lost their job and that was before my time up here. Penelope Cholmondeley, aka Polar Penny, was fired after writing some things that upset a couple of people, who complained to her employer, who promptly fired her. That actually created a small international racket, about whether or not her employer was right to do that. For what it’s worth, and from what little I know second hand of the situation, I think they over-reacted.

The other three bloggers have received warnings and took steps, including removing the offending posts or, as in the case of Larry, killing his old blog. Again, for the record, I don’t think what Larry has done to deal with the situation will hold up for long. But we shall see.

I understand the frustration. When you get annoyed about something, it's great therapy to be able to rant about it on your blog. I’d love to write about what I do at work or even issues tangently related to what I do. I think it’s quite interesting. But it would be insane. I could do it with the best of intentions and it wouldn’t matter. I would get in trouble. Especially when you consider the volume of reporters who are bloggers in Nunavut (there are at least four), let alone the ones who don't blog, but still surf them. And you can't say reporters won't give you a call if they see something interesting on your blog, because they will.

By the way, I'm not slagging Nunavut reporters. They're doing their job, looking for stories. If you start writing about, for example, how terrible things are at your school, don't be surprised if one of them calls. I don't blame them for trying to find a good story. I would certainly do it if positions were reversed.

You can argue its suppression of free speech. You can argue what you do in your spare time when you’re not at work is none of your employers business. And hell, I’m not inclined to argue with you too much. But here are a few simple realities about blogging in the north:
1. We live in a small territory population-wise. Maybe in places like Toronto or Vancouver you could blog about work related issues and your employer would never find out. There is little chance of that happening here.
2. This is even more the case if you live in a small community. The fact is, very few Inuit blog. So if you’re a Kablunak blogging in a small community, someone will figure it out eventually. Even posting anonymously will only cover you for so long.
3. If you talk about work in a public forum, either what your job entails or interpersonal relationships at work, your employer will eventually make it their business.

So you have to ask yourself, is it worth it? Most employers do not want you to talk about work. Perhaps some do want you to talk. Perhaps some don’t care. But many, especially if they are governments, care very much about what you say in public about your job. Most of us write blogs as a hobby. There's no money involved. I write because I go mad when I don't. But if I was told to stop tomorrow or lose my job, well, I'll find other creative outlets.

This isn’t to get into a free speech debate. This is your annual reality check if you’re a northern blogger. Be careful what you write about. Always ask yourself “do I really need to post this” before clicking “send”, especially if you're upset. And remember, as shocking as it is, there are people outside your friends and family reading your blog. Install Statcounter if you don't believe me. And they will not always like what you have to say.

If it’s an important issue and you need to speak out, then by all means I think you should do so. Just make sure you pick your fights. Too often bloggers get in trouble over relatively minor events.

Last Five
1. The way you want it - Keane
2. The shadow governments - They Might Be Giants
3. Rhythm and soul - Spoon
4. Falling through your clothes - The New Pornographers*
5. Armor and sword - Rush


Kate Nova said...

I found this really interesting. There are at least seven or eight reporter-bloggers out there that I read from time to time.

I was recently speaking with a teacher-blogger about something completely unrelated to their blog, but decided spontaneously to breach the cyber-divide and mention that we're both bloggers. After their reaction, I will likely never do that again.

I work really hard to be perceived as a human being rather than a reporter - an occupation many seem to hold in total disdain - and like to keep my blogging hobby separate from all that. Besides, there are enough stories in this territory to keep me busy without blogs to help me along. And really, if it is interesting enough to catch my attention, someone likely told me about it over the phone anyway. :)

Jen said...

I sometimes feel my blog gets pretty bland because I am trying to avoid writing about some of the more interesting but true experiences that happen to me up here, as I am afraid I will offend someone. Your totally right on this subject! Thank you for reminding us all to watch what we say, as you never know who is reading.

towniebastard said...

It's truthfully not the reporters most bloggers have to worry about. Nunavut reporter bloggers are a recent invention. And for the record, I understand all about being disdained. I did my time with that. And I have nothing but respect for reporters, even when I'm cursing on them...;)

No, the real risk are the average person reading your blog who might be a parent of a kid at your school. Or someone who works in the same branch of the government. Or perhaps a member of the general public who doesn't appreciate your views on certain topics when it comes to taking about Nunavut. And feel that perhaps the best remedy would be to talk to your boss.

Jen is right as well. There's the temptation when you get bored or feel like you're running out of things to write about (I've been doing this blog for more than two years. I've hit the bottom of the well more than once) to go into subject areas that are...risky. This is just a reminder that while it's tempting, it's always worth thinking about long and hard before you start posting things you might regret later.

Larry said...

Mea Culpa!

I'm more than a little astounded how fearful we are, especially in Nunavut, of even revealing our identities. Admittedly, my blog is (was) a little "over the top" sometimes, yet I've never been afraid to be known. Obviously, I'm an idealist, and a little naive!

Now, of course, I have to be somewhat more anonymous, but I'm not prepared to go underground completely, unless I write one of my more "offensive" posts.

I'm very saddened that bloggers who talk about the weather, their hobbies and other interesting but harmless activities still feel the need to remain incognita.

You'd think we all lived in North Korea - and maybe we do!

Larry Whittaker
Kugluktuk, Nunavut

aida said...

very interesting indeed. i believe we had one kablunak blogger who was making fun of the kids and the Inuit names. I am only hearing part of the story so i dont know about the rest, but he eventually got fired. There was a chinese lady here too, not sure what she did but she had to leave.

i agree with Jen, sometimes i want to blog about something but i am worried that i will offend anyone. i dont really blog much about the people, mostly the weather and the environment cause i've been told, the teens/kids here read my blog.

towniebastard said...

Aida, I hadn't heard about those incidents. We can bump it up to six now.

And Larry, I think you can blog about the weather, or frustrations in dealing with some of the challenges of the north and things along those lines.

But if you work for the government especially, there are people who are going to take an interest in what you say. So an extra level of caution in what you write is always prudent.

If you need to vent, that's why you have friends and email.

KOTN said...

First of all, I am obsessed with that new TMBG album.

When it comes to blogging as a reporter, for years I just wouldn't do it, it wasn't worth the hassle.

When people disagree with your version of the facts, they tend to shoot the messenger, or, in one case I remember fondly, simply threaten to actually shoot the messenger.

That's why reporters have to be extra careful when blogging. No one is completely objective, we all have to work to get that objectivity into our work.

Now, I use it to discuss things that are not half as interesting as what I am doing at work. That's the price you pay, when your opinion could change how someone reads or views something.

Safety first folks. That's why you won't see pix of my brand new son up on my blog. I wanted to stop that habit before it got out of hand.

We actually had Inflateable Elvis take down a pic of my partner's seven-year-old, because of that. It was a darn cute pic, but he was playing Dance Dance Revolution without a shirt on.

Where IS the Shadow Government when you need it. We are right here, hiding behind our blogs :)

My next blog update will be about how Kevin Smith casting Seth Rogan in his new flick made $1,000,000 fake dollars on Hollywood Stock Exchange.

Anonymous said...

This problem runs deeper and is more complex that you might think.

For those who believe the rules are simple, let me set you straight - they are not clear and simple, they are arbitrary and complex.

Despite the fact that:

1) I have never, nor would I ever, place confidential or privileged information on my blog, and

2) No information on my blog came to me, either directly or indirectly, from my employment with the GN,

I was made to take the "sensitive" (not defined) material from my blog. I had made my point anyway, and the items were "time-expired". They're gone - no big deal.

What is a big deal is that, unless we want to sound like mono-sylabic morons, nothing in our blogs is immune to the criticism of "too sensitive", whatever that means.

And here's the kicker - I've also been told (in writing) that my private e-mails cannot contain "sensitive" material. So much for venting to our friends. If you work for the GN, be warned - e-mailing tales to your family in the south could get you into trouble.

In my case, 37-years in NWT/Nunavut has given me no small amount of experience. It is from that well that I drew the water, not from the swamp of my employment.

How much are we prepared to tolerate? I, for one, have reached my limit.

(I think) You Know Who

towniebastard said...

Well, putting sensitive information to friends in work emails is foolish. You have no privacy when it comes to work emails. The only way your work account should be used is for work. As for private email accounts, like gmail for example, an employer would have almost no way of figuring what your email account is, let alone what information you're sending.

As for what you put on your blog, I agree, it can be frustrating. I'd like to comment on northern politics more, but refrain just to be on the safe side. It can be frustrating, but I see no way around it.

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm not prepared to bend over quite so easily.

My employer was not referring to using the government e-mail system. I wouldn't, and haven't sent any "senstive" (?) material to family or friends from work.

The employer is referring to your private e-mails that use uses your private e-mail adress. This is just wrong. It's bad enough that we have to hide our identities on our blogs. Now we have to establish covert e-mail identities?

"Sensitive" is not defined, and therein lies the problem. It's open to broad interpretation - in short, it can defined in any way that suits the employer's purpose which, of course, is to replace us "visitors" with LCB's.