Blog today, gone tomorrow

commentary The battle between corporate guardians and bloggers who claim the right to write on whatever topic -- and in whatever terms -- they fancy, is hotting up.The latest incident to hit the news -- only this week -- was the sacking of Joe Gordon, an employee of book retailer Waterstone's in Scotland, over comments posted on his blog that were derogatory of his boss and mentioned occasional bad days at work.

commentary The battle between corporate guardians and bloggers who claim the right to write on whatever topic -- and in whatever terms -- they fancy, is hotting up.

The latest incident to hit the news -- only this week -- was the sacking of Joe Gordon, an employee of book retailer Waterstone's in Scotland, over comments posted on his blog that were derogatory of his boss and mentioned occasional bad days at work. Gordon's online musings reportedly included the terms "Bastardone's" and "Evil Boss," among others.

The dismissal comes after the now notorious incident in which Jessica Cutler, a secretary in a US Senators' office who wrote online about her exploits involving Washington officials, was sacked from her position.

Blogging is just one manifestation of the Internet's capability to lower barriers to entry for the mass dissemination of news, views and images. It has paved the way for a welter of online diaries whose content ranges from inspired to tedious, from perceptive to obvious.

Blogging has -- in many ways rightly -- been heralded as introducing truly democratic reporting and commentary, breaking media outlets' near-monopoly on the mass control and distribution of information. There is definite merit to that claim -- the greater the diversity of opinion and the more individuals watching and recording what is going on in this world, the better. As with mainstream media columnists, the best bloggers can and are carving out reputations for insight and occasionally, digging up the odd nugget of news missed by everyone else. The media heavyweights in Australia are not blind to the blogging blitz -- Sydney Morning Herald journalist Margo Kingston writes her own closely followed Web diary on the newspaper's Web site, while one of Australia's most acerbic right-wing bloggers and columnist at The Bulletin, Tim Blair, told readers last week he was joining the magazine full-time as Assistant Editor (News), after discussing a range of proposals with management, including a Bulletin-financed blog.

However, as the blogging phenomenon grows, its adherents face a harsh reality -- they are accountable for the content of their postings. (I might add, this applies to all Web authors, not just bloggers). While many treat their blogs as private diaries, a life update service for friends or a substitute for a spleen-venting session at the pub, they are unaware of the risks that wider accessibility to their words can bring. While few employment contracts these days specifically mention blogging, wider clauses designed to prevent maligning of corporate reputations -- or even disclosure of corporate secrets -- are likely to give companies a fairly easy way of ousting a blogger who has posted some ill-chosen comments. Even worse, defamation laws can also be invoked to pursue a legal outcome that can devastate a blogger financially for years into the future.

In short, be an educated blogger. Don't post anything you may regret. Even if your blog is password-protected or only known to a select few, a risk still exists - albeit fairly small -- that a malicious or otherwise damagingly incorrect posting could find its way to the wrong screen.

What do you think? Will we soon see Australian bloggers sacked by their employers for posting injudicious content? Do you yourself read blogs? How are they better (or worse) than traditional journalism? E-mail us at edit@zdnet.com.au and let us know.

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