Blogfired: Ellen Simonetti

Ellen Simonetti, fired flight attendant for Delta Airlines and blogger, Diary of a Flight Attendant and the Bloggers’ Rights Blog

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I was forbidden from flying (as a Delta flight attendant) on September 25, 2004. A week and half later on October 6 I was suspended. I was fired on October 29 and terminated officially on November 1, allegedly for “inappropriate pictures,” in which I was wearing my Delta outfit in a playful pose.

Men who had similar photos on their sites were not disciplined. I filed an EEOC sex discrimination complaint on October 8. Due to the firing coming after my complaint I amended it to include retaliation.

I removed the pictures (on my blog) right after the call on September 25. I’m still appealing to get job back directly. If Delta refuses, then a lawsuit could be filed

(Delta) won’t tell me what “inappropriate pictures” means and now they’re saying comments as well. I never mentioned my employer. Only five of 100-200 readers I had prior to firing knew where I worked and probably four of them were airline employees. What was I doing that was inappropriate? They were fun snapshots. On pilot site there are pictures of pilots in flight. Pilots have a union and attendants don’t.

I think it’s the lack of a clear policy (that is the major issue with blogging and work). And they’re trying to interfere with our personal lives, what we do on our own time. Don’t we have a right to talk about what we do for living?

Employers should have clear blogging policy and warning system. I worked at Delta for eight years and had no disciplinary history. I don’t think it’s fair to fire someone because of their blog. It’s their diary. So what if it’s published on your web? That’s just new technology. It’s just about changing employers’ attitudes. They’re looking very backward the way some of these companies have reacted.

Blogfired: Andrew Nachison

Andrew Nachison, Director of the Media Center, a Reston, Virginia think tank that studies the intersection of media, technology and society, at the American Press Institute

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I look at blogs in terms of society. Blogs are one piece of a revolution that is taking place enabled by technology, which is giving individuals the power to create, select, distribute and discuss information and ideas in a way that was never before available.

Our media diet in the past was filtered by institutions – newspapers, TV, magazines – and political discourse (was filtered) the same way, but ordinary people have not just many more sources of information available to them, but a vastly expanded capacity to create and distribute and circumvent institutions. On a practical level (institutions) package, on another they filter, deciding which information is more important and relevant. They can also play a vetting role, fact-checking for instance.

There are potentially enormous benefits that can be derived from a free and open society in which everyone has the capacity to contribute ideas and information to the public discourse. Democracy and freedom can be stifled when institutions exert inordinate control over information. Freedom of expression is Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. What are the rights and responsibilities of employment? Carrying firearms is legal but most workplaces prohibit it. When you get down to the level of corporate speech, the more interesting debate is with those companies who want to restrict the blogging of employees in ways that have nothing to do with that company.

Employers don’t have universal and blanket authority to restrict what people do outside of the workspace. People have these tools at their fingertips and that gets at the disruption of power. There is more equity in the power relationship

My instinct is we are in the very beginning of a transformation and I think what we’re going to see take place is that society will adopt behaviors and standards that reflect the changed relationship. What we’re seeing is tension and I see it as about power. People who had power are uncomfortable with the shift and I think society will become comfortable with it and standards and policies will be adopted.

On the media side we’re going to continue to see proliferation of communications of all forms. I think what it will mean for society eventually is greater transparency globally for all institutions, including media. A lot of this is happening now. I’m very excited about what is happening and I choose to be optimistic. We do face challenges of information overload, though. Just having it out there doesn’t mean people are better off, so many tune it out. There has been a technological arms race and a backlash. There have been technological responses, like censorship in China (shutting off access to the Internet). Employers struggling with the same challenge shut down employer access to Internet, put up firewalls, limit instant messaging. There are very coherent plausible arguments regarding productivity and company secrets but at the end of the day it’s a conflict.

Blogfired: Doug Simmons

Doug Simmons, Managing Editor of the Village Voice

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Whenever anyone approaches me in any form, and frequently when they pitch me a story, I’ll Google them or otherwise follow up online their credentials, specifically, their publication credentials.

I really couldn’t imagine firing anyone for something they wrote unless they revealed proprietary information like upcoming stories. If they picked up some scuttlebutt around the water cooler and discussed something in the works. It really is hard to imagine a situation in which we’d react in a really disciplinary fashion. We link to two of our sex columnists’ blogs, which are really like personal sex diaries.

We really don’t (have a policy on employees blogging. Some publications ban taking part in protests and so on, but at the Voice there is no restriction on expression. I’m particularly grateful to be at the Voice where we err on the side of perhaps too much freedom.

Some blogs I find repellent, like those that broadcast traffic accidents and so on, and we don’t have anything to do with that sordid violent content, but some of our writers probably do. Even if they get involved we can keep it separated from Voice endorsement.

Article on Blogging and Employment

My article is coming out next Monday. It covers the friction between bloggers and their employers. I’ll post a link here when it’s out. I also intend to post the reams of interview materials and links I could not use in the article.

I will also share the results of an HR organization’s survey I provoked with my incessant yammering. There are some interesting statistics. Because it is the first of its kind I know of, though, they are limited.

First Fired for Blogging, Now Not Hired for Blogging

I just got a call from Michael Skoler, the news director at Minnesota Public Radio. I was the lead candidate for a job as an analyst at MPR’s Public Insight Journalism inititative, a program that uses a database to gauge public opinion and mine sources for public radio stories and series. I had interviewed several times, had all the experience and all the skills they were looking for. The next step was to fly out and speak with Michael and the team in person.

In an earlier conversation, Michael had mentioned my blog entry on the San Francisco Catholic Church’s behavior in likening themselves to Jewish victims of the Holocaust when some drag queens elected to parade on Easter. But I didn’t think much of it. After all MPR is a proponent and defender of the First Amendment, no? Uh, no.

When Michael called this morning he said the reason I was not going to be hired was specifically because of this blog, Morpheme Tales. What would the neighbors think?

I am a little ashamed of myself for being surprised. After all, during my tenure at KLCC, the NPR affiliate in Eugene, Oregon, the dominant note was one of orthodoxy. One must be of clean mind and clean political and social belief. To say “poopie” or imagine that although all war is evil, not all war is avoidable, is to “deny the essential personhood” of some fucking shit or other.

I’ve said it before and I’l say it again: JOURNALISM DOESN’T WORK!

Friendster, Microsoft, Delta Airlines and now Minnesota Public Radio. Well, I’m hardly “fired” but for a hurting unit in the great unemployed state of Oregon, it hardly feels like less of a fuck-all.

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In the three weeks since I first posted this I have researched blog-related firings for an article I’m writing. I’ve also had some time to reflect, as well as to read comments that have come in. Some people seem upset that I got upset. But they seem to be misunderstanding a little what I was upset about. Having worked in a public radio station for six months, I was painfully aware of how completely biased — and how openly biased — the people at the station were. One reporter during a staff meeting said to general nods all around, “Of course, none of us can be impartial.” I was frequently shown examples of the idiocy of Republican politicians and expected to decry it or laugh along with it. (It just so happens I am probably what would be consider by many to be “liberal,” but I believe in equal opportunity lambasting and in that I was alone — to skewer the “progressive” sacred cows was a crime worse than genocide.) So to be discounted from a position because someone might read my blog and believe me to be biased seemed a bit on the hypocritical side.

My research has led me to a more nuanced appraisal of blog-related firings in general. I am going to reserve most of this for my article and will publish a link to it when it comes out. But one thing I can say is that there are many different types of blogs with radically different tones. People have been fired for saying loathsome things, loathsome things about co-workers and bosses, for saying anything at all, for merely having a blog and so on. It is definitely not one-size-fits-all. I think there is a tendency toward collar-tearing in the blog community that overstates the importance of this and I think there is an ignorance on the part of many employers and, in some cases — specifically media and software companies — a tendency to dismiss it as beneath consideration. Why do I have the sneaking suspicion that neither is completely on target?