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Poynter’s pointers on managing intern/reporter blogs

There’s a quick read about how to handle intern or reporters blogs at Poynter’s Every Day Ethics column from Thursday.

The cliff notes version of the entry is this: have a policy, make it known and don’t make it “no blogs.”

As a proponent of journalists blogging and a member of a newsroom with a pretty loose policy (which I think has a lot to do with my editors’ comfort with the technology: the publisher, executive editor & managing editor all blog themselves for the Web site), I think all the suggestions about the policies in the column are reasonable:

  • Write one. Maybe start a blog about policies. But do it now. It’s way too late to claim that blogging is just too new of a phenomenon to merit a policy.

  • Reconsider your policy if it states: No personal blogs. Telling a 20-year-old he can’t blog is like telling a 50-year-old she can’t write a holiday letter. You won’t win that one.
  • Consider what you’re comfortable having employees discuss in public:
    • Nothing about the newsroom at all? That might be unrealistic.
    • Nothing about stories in development? That seems fair.
    • Nothing that puts the company in a negative light? Sure, you’ve got a right to require that, but you might define negative carefully.
    • Nothing about sources? Good idea. Journalists who say things about their sources that they wouldn’t put into their stories are treading in dangerous territory.
    • Nothing embarrassing or negative about your colleagues.
  • I counsel journalists who keep personal blogs to employ a no-surprises rule. Always let your boss know if you have a blog. Ask for guidelines, if they don’t exist. Never say anything in the blog that you wouldn’t say out loud, to the primary stakeholders.
  • I agree most with the items I underlined in those suggestions.

    The first made me laugh, but it’s true. Don’t say I can’t do it, but do set guidelines for me to follow. If you don’t set guidelines, don’t blame me if down the road you’re upset.

    But by the same token, the ultimate responsibility is NOT on the editors to foresee every instance that could need guidance. They have better more important things to do than micro-manage their employees personal time. So if you want to blog, you need to be reasonable and responsible. Never, never, never post anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable defending. Assume Google will archive it. Assume it will be the top hit someone (like your boss or your sources) sees when they Google you down the road. Would you be comfortable standing behind it? If not, don’t say it. If you’re not sure, wait a day. You can’t always take it back.

    When they first heard I had a blog, some of the other reporters and editors told me a story about a group of former interns who had kept blogs that they thought no one read. They were honest, uninhibited. Turns out, the whole newsroom was reading. Assume this will be the case. Think about your reasons for wanting to hide it. Then, think about my last paragraph and find a way to reconcile those differences.

    That goes along with the “ask for guidelines” approach. Although I’d already started the blog when I started my job, I wasn’t sure what if any policy my paper had. I approached the editor about it. Later on, when someone in corporate came across the blog and included a reference in a corporate media strategy blog, she wasn’t caught off-guard by the existence or content of this site. She thought it was cool I got the mention. If she didn’t know about the site, I don’t think she’d have been so happy for me.

    The tagline version of my point is this: As with most things in life, blog responsibly.

    2 Responses to “Poynter’s pointers on managing intern/reporter blogs”

    1. Kate Martin Says:

      I saw that Poynter column. Tons of papers don’t have blogging policies. One SPJ training I went to this past winter, the speaker asked which papers did not have a blogging policy. I think every hand went up unless they were with the PI or the Times. That said, my hand went up too.

      I tried asking about a blogging policy early in my stay here, and it seems to be “don’t ask, don’t tell,” just like my last paper. It’s not like blogging is a dirty word or act, but that is how they were treating it. It’s slightly disappointing but I understand some organizations are slow to change when they are used to doing everything the same way.

    2. Steve B. Says:

      Hey there. I read this, too. I actually plan on starting a personal-ish blog while in Peoria this summer. I want to pair it up with my WordPress, which is the more an exhibition of my professional work — you saw it, I think. Anyway … I want to create a main Web site, such as stevenbushong.com, and with some sweet flash interaction, give people a choice: WordPress or personal blog. I’m excited. I’ll send it to you when I’m done!