Post Date: August 31, 2005
The following op-ed by Jeremy Blachman ’05, Job Posting, appeared in The New York Times on August 31, 2005.
Last month, Nadine Haobsh, an associate beauty editor at Ladies’ Home Journal, was about to resign and take a job at Seventeen, where she had been offered a similar position. Then the magazines discovered she was blogging about work, and her two jobs became none. Ladies’ Home Journal asked her to leave immediately; Seventeen rescinded its offer.
It’s understandable that the magazines would be angry about confidential information being posted on the Internet – internal financial reports, insider stock tips, studies disproving Ladies’ Home Journal’s recent claim that stress makes people fat. Except Ms. Haobsh wasn’t posting anything like that. No, she wrote about the “magic little bags” she received at the office “stuffed with conditioner and moisturizer and lip gloss,” and her addiction to perfume. But even these innocent revelations were apparently too much for the magazines to handle.
It’s likely that I narrowly escaped the same fate as Ms. Haobsh. This past December, I was publicly outed as the author of a Weblog called Anonymous Lawyer, where I post about life inside a corporate law firm. It’s fiction, but many of the stories are inspired by events from the summer I spent at a law firm between my second and third years of law school. Had the firm discovered the blog while I was there, I’m guessing they would have fired me. And under current law, they would have had every right to, no matter that I wasn’t writing about real people, real cases or anything that would expose the firm to liability.
Given my own blogging experience, I feel that the natural argument for me to make would be that employers shouldn’t be able to fire bloggers simply for having a blog, and that the law should protect us.
But when it comes to keeping your job – at least in the private sector – the law hardly protects anyone. You can be fired for being ugly, you can be fired for being left-handed, you can be fired for something you say to your secretary. And if you can be fired for something you say to your own secretary, it seems silly to say you shouldn’t be able to be fired for something you post on the Internet for everyone else’s secretary to read.
Besides, there are good reasons employers might want to fire people with Weblogs. Surely it’s not great for the work environment if your boss finds out that you are telling the world what a jerk he is. If you’re revealing trade secrets or confidential information, clearly your employer has a right to be upset. Even if you are writing innocent content, the mere fact that there’s an employee in the ranks who is communicating something to a larger audience can be legitimately scary to companies that are used to controlling the information that gets out.
But here’s the problem: Weblogs are worth protecting. It used to be that if you wanted to know what it was like to work for a law firm or a beauty magazine, you had to have a friend on the inside. But now that everyone can publish online, we can get these incredible glimpses into worlds we might otherwise never get to see. People across the world can share stories, commiserate and connect with each other. Potential employees can see beyond the marketing pitches.
If no one was reading, employers wouldn’t be concerned. There’s a demand for the first-person narratives people are writing about their jobs. There’s nowhere else to go to create honest conversation about the working world.
So maybe it does make sense that the law should provide special protection for bloggers, because of the social benefits Weblogs provide. The simplest place to start would be to put the burden on employers to show actual harm, if they are firing someone because of her Weblog.
This would protect the kind of innocent revelations that bloggers like Ms. Haobsh make on their sites, while still giving employers rights if their employees are revealing secrets, disclosing client and customer information or otherwise driving business away. In addition, companies should create Weblog policies that let employees know what management feels is off limits for public consumption.
In any case, blogs may not hurt companies as much as they fear. On Anonymous Lawyer, I paint a frightening picture of life at a law firm. People trip each other in the halls for fun, lawyers work from the hospital while giving birth and no one ever gets a weekend off. Yet a number of law students, not realizing that my blog is fiction, have assumed that the law firm I write about actually exists and have sent me résumés, wanting to work there. Maybe the truth wouldn’t be as harmful as some of these employers think. Maybe it’s O.K. to let people write about their jobs.
Or maybe it’s just too risky for us to know that beauty editors get free nail polish.
Jeremy Blachman, who recently graduated from law school, is writing a novel based on his Weblog.