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Starting a “personal” Web site: Just do it

I posted a discussion at the Get wired, get hired group at Wired Journalists in reference to today’s Ask the Recruiter question.

Basically, a 20-something reporter is building his new media arsenal and wants to create a “personal” professional Web site. He’s worried, however, about how this would be received by his bosses.

Joe Grimm’s advice in nutshell? Sometimes, it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission. But tread lightly.

I started Meranda Writes at the perfect time, I suppose. I was the editor of the student newspaper. There weren’t really any “bosses” to fret about. (Though I did get a lecture from the adviser about being careful not to talk about my sources. Duh.) But the truth is, I wanted my potential bosses to see the site to get a feel for who I was and what I was capable of doing. When I sent out resumes, under my contact information was the URL. When I e-mailed cover letters, I pointed editors to the site for more clips.

When I came to my current job, nobody told me of any policies regarding personal Web sites or blogs. I read the employee handbook and didn’t see anything even remotely pertinent. I spent the first week or so wondering how to bring it up to ease my conscience, even though I was 99 percent sure they had — at least someone? — come across it before hiring me. We soon had a newsroom ethics training session, but blogs didn’t come up. So I talked to the executive editor about it and discussed what’s cool and not cool to post. I don’t think she cared nearly as much as I did, but it was important to me that I have at least some quasi-go-ahead to continue. (In truth, I think my site was a part of the package deal they got when they hired me.)

I don’t know what would have happened if they’d stumbled on the site without warning. Nothing, I suppose. I would have been hiding in plain sight, a Google search away from “discovery.” Though I sometimes reference projects we’ve completed or stories I’m particularly proud of, it’s not like I blog about the latest office or town gossip. I don’t vent about my co-workers, bosses or beat. I like my job so I don’t really have much reason to do so.

I don’t know for certain, but from my site stats, I don’t believe my bosses or co-workers are active readers. They hear enough of me buzzing about Twitter and Facebook in real life they probably don’t want to read about it, too. My blog is actually the punchline to an on-going local staff joke. The imagined blog is much funnier than the one I actually keep. Either way, this site is not a secret. I have always been conscious of the fact that what I write is archived by Google and as available to my co-workers and sources as to anyone else.

I’ve actually fielded this question — “What was the boss’s reaction to your site?” — from at least a half-dozen other reporters who e-mailed me after stumbling on Meranda Writes. They all wanted to start their own sites but fear of reprisal held them back. Some of them did go on to create sites. Some never may.

My advice is the same as what Joe Grimm is handing out: proceed with caution, tell your bosses about it later. Personally? I wouldn’t want to work for an organization that didn’t see the value in having “wired” employees interested in extending their new media skills. Fortunately, I don’t.

6 Responses to “Starting a “personal” Web site: Just do it”

  1. Daniel Victor Says:

    I’m working on it, I swear.

  2. shawn smith Says:

    Great blog post Meranda. This issue came up at the Online Journalism Association conference. Many people weren’t sure if a reporter should have their own blog. Being that American journalism is largely based on the notion that all journalists are striving for objectivity in their reporting, i can understand some of the sentiment against journalists having personal blogs. But I’m even more in favor of transparency. I’ve been blogging since 2004 on various blogs, and glad I have been. There was a thread on WJ about you the need to “do it” to “understand it.” That’s very true. I’m with you, everyone should try their hand at creating their own personal website.

  3. John Robinson Says:

    Anecdotally, I think the smaller the newspaper the more willing the editor is to say, “Why the hell are you asking such a stupid question? Of course you can do it.” Seems to me the big papers are the ones still concerned about personal blogs. But that may be an old perception.

    “I wouldn’t want to work for an organization that didn’t see the value in having “wired” employees interested in extending their new media skills.”

    That’s your key comment. Why would you indeed?

    I am an editor of a medium newspaper. I don’t know how many of our folks have personal blogs and don’t really care. I ask them not to embarrass the newspaper and if they have problems with me or a supervisor, I would prefer they let us deal with that privately.

    But really, I wish more had blogs and am encouraging all my staff to expand their digital skills.

  4. Jessica Says:

    I love reading your blog.

  5. Carl Says:

    Me? I never nag.

  6. Joe Grimm Says:

    Some good advice here for people, Meranda, from one who knows what she’s talking about.

    You’re helping us all understand that a blog is not a specific type of writing but a tool for many kinds of publishing — some without any writing at all!

    Keep it up!