Work and blogging

Published on 12 January 2005 in , , , , ,

On the day that we found out about the first UK blogger to be sacked by his employer (well that we know about anyway) it’s fittingly appropriate that the hot topic on part of the BBC’s internal message boards was guidelines for BBC staff who blog about work stuff. Purely coincidentally I hasten to add – the thread was started a few days ago.

And the interesting conundrum was posed by one person who had been asked to look at the issue. Do we actually need them?

The thing about the old BBC is that it’s quite an open organisation. In many ways it has to be – it’s a public body subject (in some areas) to the Freedom of Information Act if nothing else.

On the non-compulsory side(!), it’s not an organisation that’s come across as particularly heavy handed on its staff. If you want to do something, it’s generally OK.

It’s an organisation that seems to have embraced bloggers – even employing a few famous ones.

There’s a bloggers discussion section on the internal message boards. The website has blogs, ranging from the BBC Comedy Blog created by the team behind the Comedy website, to Island Blogging – a wonderful initiative which has seen the team from BBC Scotland go out to some of the Scottish Islands to teach people how to blog, with amazing results in getting non-tech savy people online and blogging.

Plenty of BBC staff have blogs which contain all manner of stuff about their work projects from Martin Belam talking initally about Search, and now onto all manner of interesting other stuff he does, through to the fame and fortune of Tom Coates.

Thanks to the BBC I have met and wandered round studios in Television Centre with Ben and Mena Trott – the couple who first created the very piece of software that I am using to write this entry.

All of which is why I said yes. We should have some guidelines. And why I think every employer should have guidelines.

Because it’s not about what the bloggers think or do, it’s what others in an organisation think and do. And if you ever need it, there’s protection in those guidelines. Something tangable that you can point to something and say "I’m confident that I never crossed that line" if you ever need to.

I seriously doubt I would ever need them, but I’ve had hassle about websites before.

Back in my days at university, the IT Service threw up a right stink about the Channel 3 North East Hate Page – a predecessor to the Tyne Tees Logo Page – which was hosted on their servers. The problem – a member of staff from Tyne Tees had put in a mild complaint. The result – I was told (initially) that Tyne Tees were threatening to sue me for every penny. In order to keep my university computer access, I was forced to type a letter of apology to Tyne Tees and kill the site from the university servers – a surprisingly difficult task when your access has been blocked!

Six months later I had my account suspended again – mid summer holidays I found my email and website blocked. My crime this time? To have dared linking to the new web site from my existing site held on the University of Durham web servers – not that they’d ever asked me not to do that of course, but they suspended the account all the same – this time without telling me why.

As I recall the only guideline we ever really had at Durham was that computer accounts were to be used for academic purposes only. And to be fair, I broke that one. As did hundreds of other people – staff and students. We used the servers for personal emails, for personal websites, for all manner of rubbish. The lack of anything tangible meant I had nothing to shake at them when all was collapsing around me.

Of course I got my revenge. I got elected onto the IT Users Committee in my final year – a dull and tedious committee but I got to vote against some key things the IT Service wanted to do. Don’t recall that I ever made much of a difference and I was only elected because there were several empty posts and no one else stood for them, but it made me feel good.

That was (of course) before blogging took off – but it’s a memory that has always stuck with me and shaped some of my thoughts on the matter.

Some people seem to think that employers started getting stroppy just recently. The thing is, people have been getting stroppy for years – it’s just now the blog has given a more tangible, findable record to it for many more people than random usenet or mailing list postings ever did.

So it all comes down to one thing – if we have the rules and we don’t break them, no one can ever complain. If we do, and we do, and someone does… Well that’s another matter. But if there are no rules, then who knows what might happen. Not that anything particularly bad is ever likely to happen to a BBC employee that is sensible.

I suspect most of this comes down to my own personal paranoia based on past experience, but it’s experience that builds us, that makes us who we are, and experience that helps build what we believe.

Ultimately though a desire I would like in life is to not be talking about work stuff on this blog. Nope, not at all.

Instead I’d like to be doing it in an official capacity – at some kind of where anyone in the BBC could write about the stuff they do. Some kind of BBC equivalent to the Google Blog.

Why do it that way? Cos where better for me to talk about my work, than on a part of my employers website. Isn’t that really where it should be really?

Hopefully one day it will be. Until that day, I’ll just post stuff up here instead.