How To Avoid Getting Fired For Your Blog

When I started blogging about journalism, I did so at the urging of a hiring editor (who didn’t, ultimately, hire me but did inspire me). I had all these great digital skills, she told me, but she asked why had I presented her with carbon-based clips (i.e. paper) instead of a URL. I left the job fair and put the years of web design experience I’d been amassing to good work, and by the end of the weekend had built myself a website with clips, a resume, a bio and a blog about, what else, journalism and my place in the evolving industry.

That was a few months before my college graduation. And after putting so much work into the blog, I proudly stamped the URL on my resume and included it in my cover letters to prospective employers. To be honest, the blog’s inclusion wasn’t so much a way to show off my work as to cover my ass. When I interviewed for jobs, I discussed it. When I was hired, I searched the employee handbook and intranet for information about personal blogs. Soon after I arrived, I sat down with the executive editor and we discussed it. See, what kept me up late at night wasn’t the prospect of graduating without a job, but rather I did not want one of those editors to plug my name in Google and come across my blog, assuming I had hid or was hiding it.

I had flashbacks to that period and those decisions when I heard the story of Khristopher Brooks, who was fired this week from the job he hadn’t yet started because of the way he announced his new job on his tumblr blog. Brooks did a silly thing, but in my opinion, the folks he thought would soon be his new bosses did an even sillier one. (In my honest opinion, I think they come off looking out-of-touch and overly cautious for a news organization currently force-feeding its employees the “digital first!” company line, and he comes off probably having dodged a bullet.)

Here’s what got Brooks fired, and then, here’s my been-there-done-that advice on how to not get fired for your personal journalism blog.

Brooks’ story

In late March, the Gannett-owned Delaware News Journal offered Brooks, a soon-to-be NYU journalism graduate, a job as an investigative reporter. Excited about the job, Brooks bought a car, put his apartment in New York up for rent and did what professionals in some other industries do when they’re excited about a new hire, he put out a press release stating he’d been “acquired”. The press release, obviously tongue-in-cheek and pompously sprinkled with a few choice phrases from his offer letter, was not meant to do anything but announce his good news and excitement to his Tumblr readers.

Media blogger Jim Romenesko took note of the creativity. (Plenty of commentators there and elsewhere took note of the “was that really necessary?” aspect, which I won’t get into.)

His bosses, evidently, took note of his unauthorized use of the company logo and lines from their offer letter. And, Brooks says, they called him to inform him he was being fired for the contents of that press release. Doh.

As Brooks put it, in a note he wrote about his firing for the Huffington Post, he assumed they were cool with it and understood the excited, not malicious, intent:

Before Romenesko and I hung up, he asked if the News Journal had seen my blog post. I didn’t know the answer. I figured someone had seen the post because it was on a public Tumblr page, a public WordPress blog and I tweeted a link to it. Romenesko said he would reach out to the News Journal for comment. I thought nothing of it.

Then, his soon-to-be boss called and rescinded the job offer:

I was at a loss for words. When I finally spoke I said, “Well, can I just take it down? I know Romenesko’s cell number. I can have him take it down, I’ll take mine down, this never happened.”