Non-Blogger Fired For Blogging!

As always, a useful perspective from Rebecca, this time on Eason Jordan:

It is a collision of expectations that is at the root of the whole incident. The Davos conference, as I understand it, is explicitly understood to be off the record--a place where movers and shakers (and select journalists) can get together and speak openly to each other without worrying about representing their professions, their employers, or their constituencies. The conference is designed to elicit the uncensored remark: for open conversation and debate without fear of public repercussion.

In this sense, Eason Jordan got fired for blogging. Except, of course, he's not a blogger. And nobody's ever been fired for blogging. But his words getting taken out of context and resulting in his resignation from his position put him in an untenable, unemployable position, at least to those who choose a false clarity over the nuance and understanding any of us would extend to the people we care about.

The key concept is meeting expectations, and whether those expectations are reasonable, forgiving, and fair. I don't know Mark Jen, but I can tell you the core of the reason he got fired from Google was for not meeting their expectations of good judgement. That's the same reason I said before that nobody's ever been fired for blogging.

The remarkable thing is that we in the blogosphere are so bullheaded in making our judgements on these issues. Google owns Blogger, reached out to the entire blogging industry in initiating the nofollow initiative, and in general is pretty clueful about the potential of the medium. And I say that as a nominal competitor of theirs. But tech bloggers prefer to believe that "Google doesn't get it!" than to think that maybe they're just trying to enforce a reasonably consistent policy that would work for all the hundreds of people who work at their company.

So, I assert that nobody's ever been fired for blogging. How can you test this hypothesis? Take a person's words, and guess what would happen if you took the exact same words or ideas and sent them to the public via letter to the editor, streetcorner soapbox, or pony express. Would they still get you canned? Then you weren't fired for blogging. I haven't seen a convincing example of a situation where this wasn't true yet. And believe me, in my line of work, I hear about every person that gets "fired for blogging".

And about Eason Jordan: More myopic blogger triumphalism. Dear political bloggers, most people, even in the blogosphere, have never heard of the whole kerfuffle, let alone the one surrounding Jeff Gannon. This is inside-baseball cliquishness at its worst. I'm not saying these guys didn't screw up, I'm saying that you didn't win. It won't temper we liberals who control the media to be more moderate, and it won't keep the White House from trying to spin the media. Net effect? Lots of negatives, few positives.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but you're hurting us. You're hurting all weblogs.

We're just barely into the phase where normal people have heard the word "blog", and the zealous political bloggers who form a loud, obnoxious minority of bloggers have decided they want their grandmothers to think of blogging as "that thing that gets journalists fired". That sucks, and it's going to limit the number of people who join into our medium. And the zealous tech bloggers who form a loud, obnoxious minority of bloggers have decided they want their grandmothers to think that blogging is "that thing that gets regular people fired". That's not better.

You can't make a medium where there's absolutely zero tolerance for being human and making mistakes. Every political blogger crowing about Eason and Gannon is just sealing the fate of us all when large journalistic organizations start to reciprocate. I know I couldn't stand up to the scrutiny of even the smallest news network or newspaper focusing all its resources on finding my weaknesses, flaws, inconsistencies, or misstatements. Hell, I'd have to eliminate about 90% of the jokes I make from my daily conversations.

But this is the direction that we're headed. A blogger can't be held responsible by his employer for his words that he incontrovertibly published on his own site, but a journalist can be held responsible for his alleged words taken out of context. Maybe this will all resolve itself when more bloggers are considered journalists and they're forced to start digging up dirt on themselves. I doubt it.

So what should we do? I'd described a (fairly tech-centric) way to try to effect change, but in general the way to persuade people to do the right thing is by understanding where they're coming from, trying to put their decisions and actions in the context of their circumstances, and then finding a motivation within their goals and needs that would encourage them to do what you think is right.

It's not following these steps that has resulted in blogs having such little influence so far. Despite all the hype and triumphalism, any media movement that involves over 10 million people should be having more of an impact than it has already. But blogs have been so polarized and antagonistic (you're just like the media you hate) that they're doing a piss-poor job of persuading.

I think we can do better.