Rumble: Will Blogging Get You Fired?

Possible subtitles for this rumble:
  • “What have Jan Pronk, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative to Sudan and Ellen Simonetti, an attractive young flight attendant have in common?“ (And it is not what you think, you dirty minds, you!)
  • “The conscience struggles while standing on the soapbox”
  • “The Day I met the Terrorist Organisation, to Publish or not to Publish?”
  • Or maybe just “Ramble, rumble and the sorts. A Retrospective Trip Into a Trouble Mind!” :-)

My fifteen minutes of fame.

This website is now about 6 weeks old. Born out of the lust to (finally) publish my short-stories. And flattered by the response from the readers. It is always nice to do something, that others find interesting. Little was I prepared for what happened this weekend. Normally the counters in the right column show me an average of two to three users online at any given time. I knew something was different when last Thursday night (eh, Friday morning 2 AM), just before going to bed, I saw 70 users online at the same time. Mapstats showed me the users were mainly referred to by a German and a US based Internet news-feed site. It seemed the story of
The Day I Got Deported from the US was (finally) picked up by the masses. In the next 24 hours, instead of the usual 500-600 pages visitors read per day, I got a record page view of 12,000.


My reactions: (sometimes it is interesting observing one’s self)
  • Flattered. I had written something that people were interested in. 93% of the 490 people who filled in the poll at the end of the article, rated it as 'Excellent'). I was no longer alone out there in the Blogosphere (sniff), talking in the void (“Helloooo, anyone out there listeniiiing?”)
  • Two seconds later: I was busy for the next four hours moderating comments people posted about the blog, which started to stream in. All were published beneath the story
  • Four seconds later (while trying to keep up with the comments): I thought “Oh Shit”. I hope this is not going to get me into trouble. Then again, this story, like all of my short stories, are non-fiction. And particularly for this one, I tried to state the facts without giving a judgment on the people involved (the immigration officers) or the system behind it. I got expelled-deported-exiled-no matter how you want to call it- from a country which I visited regularly.
  • Sixty seconds later: “Hmm, let me re-read the story itself”, I though, as I started to doubt myself. Did I really-really-really report the facts are they were? Did I leave nothing open for miss-interpretation, had I been objective?
  • One hour later, I started to realize, that ‘You Can Not Control How People Read A Story”.. I checked some of the forums where the story was cited, and was surprised – no I was baffled – how some people misread or half-read the post. In the end, I thought “Pffft” (an expression I hold a patent on!): “You can never make things clear enough, or please everyone. And everyone has an opinion about everything.”
  • Two hours later, some comments came in which I thought were rather irrelevant to the post (apart from the usual spam), or which – I found – were direct insults to some people who commented before. Or were plain profanity.. Which comments should I let through, and publish, which ones should I delete? And most importantly, who am * I * to judge? Who am I to limit the ‘freedom of speech’ – one of the things that drove me to write this story (apart from the fact that it was ‘a nice and interesting story to tell?’). Daah!

Blogging Will Get You Fired. - Will It Really?
What have Jan Pronk and Ellen Simonetti, the highest ranking UN official in Sudan and a young flight attendant for Delta Airlines in common? Well, both were fired because of something they published in their personal blog. Kind of. One revealed some facts about the Sudanese government, which did not please them. The other one revealed a bit too much leg in a Delta Airlines uniform, which did not please them (Delta Airlines, that is, not the Sudanese government).
Let me relativate that (not the leg part, but the ‘getting fired' part): I don’t think that only one single fact gets people fired. I am sure there is always a string of events, as
Jan Pronk admits himself. Maybe a blog entry is the last bit, the last drop which makes the bucket overflow.

But one thing, I can tell you: blogging is a *^^!# two-edged sword. In one way, it is great! “Power to the People!”. At last blogging gives a unique platform for people to publish an opinion to the general public. Sure, Internet exists since a long time (Al Gore invented it, right?), but the threshold put by the technical complexity to publish something on The Net was too high for ‘People with Average Minds Like Me’. Nowadays, with FREE blogging software, this threshold is no longer there. Me, myself and I don’t know the first thing about HTML or any of that Technical Internet Stuff, but it only took me half an hour to get my first story on a blog, starting from zilch. (Thanks, All You Good People From Blogger!). Now, if I can do it, anyone can do it.

Batttt, with that freedom of speech also comes a responsibility. A responsibility to ensure what you tell is correct (otherwise label it clearly as fiction) and foremost does not hurt other individuals.. That is my non-exhaustive opinion. Also, one of the responsibilities is to ensure you don’t bite the hand that feeds you. If you are pissed off about your employer, or your working environment, or colleagues, I think other, more direct ways of dealing with it, are more appropriate.

Still, with all precautions taken, some people do get into trouble through their blog. So both the ‘surprise’ success of one of my stories, and the fact that I discovered the story about Jan Pronk and ‘the Queen of Sky” through a post on the Aidworkers Network, made me think:

“My Encounter with the Extremists: To Publish or Not to Publish? That is the Question!”

Normally, I write a story in one go. Each story takes me half an hour, an hour max. And then I sit on them for days, sometimes weeks, to re-chew them, edit them.. I send them to some of my close friends, and listen to their comments. And re-chew some more.

One of the stories I have in the pipeline describes my ‘encounter’ with a grouping labeled as a ‘terrorist organisation’, or at least an ‘Muslim extremist’ organization by most Western governments. It is an interesting story to tell. No world shocking news, but just .. a nice story. The first version had the names of the organization and the country in which it happened, all in it… Then I thought ‘hmm, this is going to get me, or someone else, into trouble.’ I mean, these people – whatever you call them ‘Radicals’, ‘Terrorists’, ‘Extremists’, are NOT the kind of people you want to mess around with. Neither the government of the country all of this happened in.

Learning the lessons I mentioned above, I took out the name of the country in which the story happened. And then stripped out the name of the ‘extremist grouping’. And… was left with a very cryptic and dull story.. Yak! The punch was taken out of it.. Dilemma! Interesting story, but lame because of self-censorship, not making it worth anymore to publish. What to do?


The Rules of Conscientious Blogging.

Jan Pronk quotes the following rules:
  • Present only facts, not rumours or hearsay. Check the facts; don’t make up stories.
  • Present only quotes of public statements. Do not quote what other persons said in official or informal meetings. In references to such meetings only quote your self. Do not breach confidentiality.
  • Present criticism in a balanced manner. Approach all parties alike. Be even handed.
  • Do not attack individual persons. Criticize organizations, institutions or movements. Criticize their values, policies and behaviour, when they are in conflict with internationally agreed principles and norms.
  • Do not only present criticism. Do not only report negative developments. Highlight also positive facts. Do not withhold praise, when deserved.

An article in the Aidworkers Network lead me to some excellent pieces written about ‘Safe Blogging’ or I would call it ‘Conscientious Blogging’ by Reporters Without Borders and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. That made me conclude ‘Yes I will publish the piece about the extremists.’ I just have to “Re-chew a Little More..” :-) Stay tuned..

PS: And I thought this ‘blogging’ thing was going to be a ‘simple few days work to publish some of my stories’, hey? It is an interesting Road, though, we’re walking.
PPS: Were we lucky that Jan Pronk was not fired because he showed too much leg to the Sudanese Government! Maybe Ellen would have done better with the Sudanese Government! Should we propose they swap jobs?

Picture credits: janpronk.nl and queenofsky.journalspace.com


More Blogging "Tips and Tricks", you find here.

3 comments:

vagabondblogger 05 March, 2007 15:09  

You lucky s.o.b. Send some of those readers my way. Yes, I also sit on stories - I have several expat profiles that are completed, that I keep re-reading and editing.

Btw, I'm going on to your original post now re: getting evicted from the U.S. to see if there were any reactionary comments, to my comment.

Peter Casier 05 March, 2007 15:22  

hey, vagabondblogger... if you want to test your stories on a prototype reader, just email me some of them and I will comment..!

vagabondblogger 05 March, 2007 23:33  

Thanks, but my family gives me plenty of feedback. My daughter is a creative writing major and would really like to see perfection, which I'm sorry, but happy to say, I cannot provide.

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