February 11, 1999 |
|What Do You Tell the Boss? |
|By Matt Welch, OJR Staff Writer
and Columnist |
gainfully employed print or broadcast journalists start tinkering around
with HTML, it's usually to create an accessible resume with clips, or to
post cute pictures of their four-year-old daughters. No one gets hurt,
and, usually, no one reads their sites.
A small but growing
number of newsroom stiffs, however, have been toiling away on their home
PCs during their free time, creating original (and occasionally
interesting) Web sites with updated content.
moonlighting has created a new set of procedural questions for newspapers
and their ambitious staffers: Are standard freelance guidelines adequate
to cover Web sites? What, exactly, should be considered "competing" (and
therefore taboo) content? What if the site includes criticism of the
newspaper or its parent company? And, before any of this, how and when
should the Internet publisher bring it up with the boss?
followed the old adage: Act first and apologize later," explained Tom
Mangan, copy editor and features page designer for the Peoria (IL) Journal
Star. In his spare time, Mangan maintains Newsies 2.0, which
profiles other journalists' Web efforts
of my site... probably due to my incessant bragging to co-workers," said
Ken Stone, sports copy editor of the San Diego Union-Tribune by day,
editor and publisher by night of Masters
Track and Field, a site dedicated to the exploits of middle-aged
Some, like Plattsburgh, NY, Press-Republican Design/Systems Editor Jack
Downs, go the full-disclosure route.
"As soon as I decided I
really wanted a Web sideline -- but before I actually began the work -- I
discussed the job with my editor in chief," said Downs, who moonlights as
a "guide" to the U.S. Newspapers page on the Mining Co. site. "I tried to
be as open and honest as possible."
Others, like Internet
beat reporter James Romenesko of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, don't see the
need to mention it. Romenesko has been posting The Obscure Store and
Reading Room, a useful page of summaries of the day's more interesting
national stories plus scores of links, since 1995.
always kept my Obscure work separate from my day jobs," said Romenesko,
who spends around four hours a day working on the site at home. "Because I
don't do anything Obscure-related in the workplace, I don't see it as an
issue and I don't bring it up."
Mangan launched Newsies in October 1996,
in part as a response to not getting a job he applied for at a major
online newspaper. The idea came to him after his research into how to
build a good resume/clips site turned up dozens of interesting personal
pages posted by journalists.
|When they found out, Mangan's bosses
politely pointed out that by posting his clips he was
reprinting the Journal Star's exclusively copyrighted material
By April 1997 Mangan's hobby had expanded into a regular "Newsies on
the Net" column for Editor & Publisher (which he no longer writes).
Now his site has links to more than 360 journalists' Web pages, in
addition to a series of interviews called the "Seven Questions" project.
Mangan works two to 10 hours a week on the site, and averages 100 to 200
readers a day, he estimated.
"I never consulted any of my
editors and none of them said a word to me about the site until it got a
bit of publicity in the trade press," he said in an e-mail interview.
When they found out, Mangan's bosses politely pointed out
that by posting his clips he was reprinting the Journal Star's exclusively
copyrighted material without permission.
"Tom and I had a
nice talk," said Journal Star Managing Editor Jack Brimeyer via e-mail.
"We established ground rules only over the reproduction of our copyrighted
pages. We didn't talk about his building/maintaining the Web site on his
own time. Actually, I am proud of his ingenuity and gumption."
Brimeyer sees Newsies 2.0 as a way for a talented employee
to fulfill some ambitions and gain new skills while continuing to work for
his hometown paper.
"Very few outside pursuits are without
benefits to working journalists, whether helping at a food bank, coaching
a soccer team or reading Churchill's 'History of the English-Speaking
World,'" he said. "In this case, Tom's site keeps him plugged into the
cutting edge of journalism. Obviously there are benefits for him and [for]
all of journalism. I suppose I'd feel differently if Tom's site featured
nothing but porn."
The Mining Co.'s Downs also had good luck
with his boss.
"My editor had a few questions, but he
seemed to quickly see that working for the Mining Co. would not put me in
competition with my paper, and in fact, it could make me a more valuable
employee," he said via e-mail.
|Brimeyer sees Newsies 2.0 as a way for a
talented employee to fulfill some ambitions and gain new
skills while continuing to work for his hometown paper.
Like Mangan, Downs has no
formal agreement with his employer on how to juggle the two jobs, though
he studiously avoids calling up his site at work.
thoroughly understand that, if my main employer raises real objections, I
will have to stop my Mining Co. work. But I don't see that happening,"
said Downs, who spends 10 hours a week on his collection of links,
interviews and feature stories.
The sideline gives him a
little pocket money and keeps him on the cutting-edge from his perch in
Plattsburgh, where he has worked the past 15 years.
the topic, and it gives me the experience and visibility that I could use
in the future if I'm ever in a job hunt," he said.
preparing for the next job, journalists should also be showing their
bosses how the sites are contributing to their current one, Downs said.
"Your newspaper management will be concerned about
competition, about ways you could embarrass them," Downs said. "Address
these concerns. Make a case for ways this sideline will make you a more
The San Diego Union-Tribune learned
about that kind of collateral value firsthand. After letting Ken Stone do
his thing since February 1996, the paper is now on the verge of being
rewarded with an in-house Web page Stone designed for tech-fearing copy
editors to instantaneously check the sites of major San Diego
organizations, such as the U.S. Navy.
"Hobbies are healthy.
More copy editors should have hobbies," said Kelly Murphy, the
Union-Tribune's news copy desk chief and Stone's boss for several years,
via e-mail. "This particular hobby has allowed Ken to develop skills that
make him a better copy editor, and may result in a valuable tool for all
our copy editors."
"Bosses see me as facilitator, not a
threat," Stone explained over e-mail. "I guess my advice would be: Pick a
subject for a Web site that your grandmother wouldn't mind visiting, even
if your grandmother owned the paper."
|[Orange County] Register management
argued that the lawsuit was the only way to shut down a man
who was threatening the paper with virus bombs and sending
employees e-mail about their co-workers' sexual habits.
One former employee at
the Orange County Register probably wishes he had taken that advice. After
a brief stint in the distribution department last spring, the employee
(whose name was not made public) launched a vitriolic site of
anti-Register dish at SLAVE4OCR.com, e-mailing more than 100 newspaper
employees to solicit gossip.
The paper's staunchly
libertarian parent company promptly sued for trademark infringement,
arguing that "THE ORANGE COUNTY unREGISTERed PRESS" could be confused as
being officially sanctioned. America Online reacted by shutting down the
site, and coughing up the ex-employee's name.
libertarians and free-press advocates cried bloody murder, but Register
management argued that the lawsuit was the only way to shut down a man who
was threatening the paper with virus bombs and sending employees e-mail
about their co-workers' sexual habits.
More murky was the
case of Maurice Tamman, a reporter for Florida Today who published the
controversial NewsMait newspaper job intelligence site until late last
year. Tamman attracted attention and loyal readers, in part by posting
journalists' anonymous comments about their newsrooms from across America.
Some of the comments were not flattering, and a few were directed at
newspaper chains like Gannett, which just happens to publish Florida
When asked last fall how his moonlighting was viewed
at work, Tamman said simply, "I'd rather not even touch that."
Publishing comments critical of your boss is a no-brainer,
"Don't even think of trying any kind of 'local
journalism review,' unless you've lost your taste for regular paychecks,"
"I'd approach a Web site the same way I'd approach
freelance work: Most employers have no qualms about their reporters and
editors freelancing so long as they aren't writing for competing media in
the same market."
But "competing media" are defined more
broadly in employment contracts than most people think, argues David
Morrock, editor and publisher of the daily general news site The Morrock News
Digest and full-time city hall reporter for a Central California
Morrock's union agreement "forbids me
from engaging in work for any competing medium without permission. A
competing medium is one that reaches readers in the newspaper's
circulation area -- as the Web certainly does," he said by e-mail. "I'd
almost bet that a reporter who doesn't think there's such a restriction in
place just hasn't read the contract."
|One way to avoid negative repercussions
is by developing a Web page for the newspaper.
In fact, Morrock said,
"the contract also says I can't mention my connection with my employers
without permission. That's why I don't give the name of the paper."
One way to avoid negative repercussions is by developing a
Web page for the newspaper. Such was the case of Detroit Free Press
Recruitment Editor Joe Grimm, who launched a handy journalism employment
site called JobsPage in June 1997.
Though the site was
his idea, forged largely in his spare time and featuring extensive
information about jobs outside the Free Press, JobsPage is owned by the
Free Press and published on its server.
"We hear constantly
from journalists and journalism students who've made use of it in job
searches," said Free Press Managing Editor Carole Leigh Hutton. "That's
part of the Free Press philosophy. The more well-trained, well-placed
journalists out there, the better."
Grimm counsels would-be
Web publishers to inform their bosses every step of the way.
"They're gonna find out anyway," he said by e-mail. "Don't
forget that your job is Job One. Unless they tell you that this is part of
your real job, or give you some time to start it, this will be on your own
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