Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Vermont politicians' "blogs"

Yesterday I wrote about my irritation with the Burlington Free Press blogs, which for some strange reaason, lack outgoing links. In an act of rebellion, I planted a link to Richard Tarrant's campaign website in the comments thread of a post about his site.

I went back this morning to check if the link was still functioning — it is — and I followed it to the campaign website. I've been there a few times, but for some reason, never noticed the "blog" that Tarrant "writes."

Now, politicians' blogs are notoriously dull. Spontanaeity and a strong, original voice animate the stuff we write online, and occasionally make our blogs worth reading. But in politics, both of those traits can be deadly. So it's not surprising that Tarrant's blog is utterly lifeless.

Here's how Tarrant's campaign explains his blog: "It is important for Rich to convey his opinions and thoughts to you about the issues of the day in a straightforward and honest manner. In order to serve as your Senator, he needs to hear what your opinions are on these same issues."

Fair enough. But why, then, does the current page of entries consist of articles from newspapers, and a letter from Tarrant's campaign manager? But don't bother leaving a comment on the blog asking Tarrant to explain — you can't! There aren't any comments. Not a big deal, really, except that the campaign has just urged people to share their opinions. Weird, especially for a guy who founded a software company.

Bernie Sanders' blog, on the other hand, is far more net-savvy, and is so far the clear winner in the Vermont senatorial blog race. The candidate himself doesn't post, but his supporters do, and they let readers comment. Looks like they're not attracting much feedback yet.

My only complaint is that Sanders' site doesn't say much about the bloggers. Who are they? Do they work for Sanders? Are they volunteers? What's the deal? I want more transparency.

July 19, 2006 at 08:04 AM in Got blog? | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

School district monitoring student blogs

Teen bloggers beware — a school district in Illinois is instituting a new policy.

From an AP report:

The board of Community High School District 128 voted unanimously on Monday to require that all students participating in extracurricular activities sign a pledge agreeing that evidence of "illegal or inappropriate" behavior posted on the Internet could be grounds for disciplinary action.

The rule will take effect at the start of the next school year, officials said.

District officials won't regularly search students' sites, but will monitor them if they get a worrisome tip from another student, a parent or a community member.

Mary Greenberg of Lake Bluff, who has a son at Libertyville High School, argued the district is overstepping its bounds.

"I don't think they need to police what students are doing online," she said. "That's my job."

Associate Superintendent Prentiss Lea rebuffed that criticism.

"The concept that searching a blog site is an invasion of privacy is almost an oxymoron," he said. "It is called the World Wide Web."

May 23, 2006 at 11:00 AM in Got blog? | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Monday, February 06, 2006

New 7D blog: Shot in the Dark

Steveelliot_1Shot in the Dark is a compilation of photos shot by Myesha Gosselin. The feature appears in the print edition of Seven Days each week, on the inside back page of section A.

Feel free to use this thread to tell us what you think. We're still working out some kinks.

February 6, 2006 at 12:25 PM in Got blog? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Monday, January 30, 2006

Peter Welch live blogging SOTU

Welch_eventThat's the State of the Union Address. From a press release circulated by Blog For America:

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Welch, candidate for U.S. Congress, will be "live blogging" before a national audience immediately following President George W. Bush's State of the Union address on Tuesday, January 31.

The live online discussion will occur at approximately 10 p.m. on BlogforAmerica is hosted by Democracy for America, the national grassroots organization founded by former Vermont Governor and current Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean.

Welch, the featured blogger Tuesday, will offer a prebuttal to the President's speech on the blog and, following the speech, will discuss the issues facing voters in the November elections.

I wonder where he'll be blogging from? Will he be the one at the keyboard?

January 30, 2006 at 11:42 AM in Got blog? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Boss says soldier's wife not fired for blogging

I wrote about this for this week's paper, but we didn't have room for it, so I'm publishing most of my story here. Despite what I've said before, don't count on seeing this in the Burlington Free Press. When I spoke to Sarah's former boss, he said he'd spoken to Sam Hemingway. He said Sam told him he "didn't see a story here." I called Sam yesterday, and he refused to say anything at all about the story. So here's what I know:

Blogging has few hard-and-fast rules, but one of them is this: Be careful what you say about your job. A Vermont woman learned that lesson last week, when she was fired after writing an account of a conversation with her boss...

There had been no reported cases of blog-related firings in Vermont until last week, when “Sarah" posted her story to the public blog she shares with her husband “Roger,” a Vermont National Guard soldier stationed in Iraq. They don’t use their last names on their site, nor reveal their occupations, and they’re not eager for publicity. Since their identities aren’t important to this cautionary tale, their last names and occupations have been omitted here as well.

Sarah also says she would prefer to keep the address to her blog private, so it doesn’t appear in this story. But because the couple has not restricted access to their blog, it remains in the public domain and is accessible through search engines such as Google.

On August 31, Sarah reported on her blog that she had asked her boss for money to ship Roger’s bicycle to Iraq. When he refused to give her the full amount, Sarah felt betrayed. Their conversation, she writes in an explicit, unflattering account, was “very unpleasant. I felt like a beggar child, humiliated for asking for support . . .”

On September 6, Sarah was fired. In her blog post that day, she attributed her dismissal to what she’d written. She wrote that her boss told her, “If you think you can post to a public site and say things like that, then you no longer need to be working here.’”

Sarah’s account of this situation outraged her readers, who left comments calling the boss “a jerk.” Other blogs — including Seven Days’ 802 Online — spread the story. Burlington filmmaker and blogger Bill Simmon linked to Sarah and Roger’s site, telling his readers, “This sucks, and should be illegal.” Frank LoPinto, of The Cool Blue Blog, excerpted Sarah’s entry and punctuated it with his own comments, including his description of her boss as a “bastard.” “Way to go Boss Man,” he wrote. “Nice way to support the troops.”

But her former boss, who has also requested anonymity, disputes Sarah’s claim. He says her blog had nothing to do with her dismissal. He claims he didn’t even see it until after he’d fired her. “She was fired because of an extremely offensive and morally damaging email she sent from her company email address on company time,” he says. Sarah has admitted to sending an email about their conversation from her work account.

Since her former boss fired her, he has read her blog, and disputes her characterization of him. “I’m portrayed as a rather selfish, heartless individual,” he says. “What you’ve heard is far from the whole story.”

Neither party is willing to tell the whole story, so rumor and speculation fill the void. And that’s a hazard of the blogosphere, where stories can spread as quickly as a blogger can link to them. The only way to stop them is to not put them out there in the first place.

Veteran bloggers such as Fairlee resident Jeff Soyer, of Alphecca, have figured that out. “I’ve always kept my job and family out of Alphecca,” he writes in a post about Sarah's unfortunate situation. “You all know the horror stories of folks who haven’t.”

September 13, 2005 at 11:01 AM in Got blog? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Blogging Ethics and more at JSC, Sept. 23

On Friday, September 23, Johnson State College is hosting Alternative Media Day, which will feature two panel discussions about Vermont's alt. media. The morning discussion will revolve around blogging. I'll be on the panel, along with Bill Simmon, Jessamyn West, Paul Lavasseur, and Brian Brown. That goes from 9-11.

Guests for the afternoon panel, which goes from 1-3, and covers the challenges of alt. media in a diverse media environment, include Shay Totten, Lauren-Glenn Davitian, Chris Grotke, and community activist Perry Cooper.

Both panels are in the Ellsworth Room in the JSC Library, and both are free and open to the public. The event is the third in a series on the media sponsored by the JSC Journalism Department, and by the American Democracy Project.   

I'm hoping to talk about the ethical issues raised by this unfortunate story I've been blogging about. Anything else you think we should cover? Is anyone planning to come?

September 13, 2005 at 09:01 AM in Got blog? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Friday, September 09, 2005

VT Soldier blog links disappearing from this site

After a day of email correspondence with Sarah, of Roger's Blog, my editors and I have decided to remove the hotlinks to her and her husband's site. Sarah has talked to reporters about the fact that she was fired from her job for blogging, but she would prefer that no one but friends and family members read the actual blog.

Why are we deleting the links? Sarah wrote an irate email asking that we remove them. Today is their 11 month anniversary, her husband is in Iraq, and she just lost her job. She is angry with me because she believes that I am endangering her husband by telling you about their blog.

I have no desire to make this a more difficult situation for their family. Still, the solution she has suggested, and we have adopted, is clearly inadequate. Other blogs still link to Roger's Blog. And the site will not disappear. It will apparently remain at its public, open-access address. Removing the links to it does not make it disappear from the public domain. The only way to keep it private is to restrict access to it. But if disabling the hotlinks will make Sarah feel better, we're willing to do it. I'm not sure this is an ethical decision, and I doubt this will solve anything, but given the circumstances, I feel I have no choice.

Anyone out there who is blogging intimate details of their private life should take notice of this case. If you want your information to remain private, you need to lock it up in a livejournal or on another restricted blogging platform. Otherwise, people can find it and will, and, no one needs your permission to link to your site.

Yes, we're taking down the links, but the lesson here is that ultimately, once you put something in the public domain, you are no longer the gatekeeper.

September 9, 2005 at 04:49 PM in Got blog? | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Vermont soldier's wife fired for blogging?

On Tuesday, Sarah, co-author of Roger's Blog, joined the growing ranks of people who have been fired from their jobs for blogging. This is still novel enough that it's a newsworthy event, but in this case it's doubly so, because Sarah's husband is a Vermont National Guard soldier  currently stationed in Iraq.  The blog that they co-author chronicles their experiences during Roger's deployment. Roger writes about life on the ground in Iraq, Sarah writes about what it's like without her husband on the homefront.

Last week, in a post I linked to here, Sarah wrote about how she asked her employer to chip in to help her send Roger's bike to him in Iraq, for his birthday. She writes that she thought her boss would say yes, since he'd supported similar things in the past. Instead, he hemmed and hawed, which upset her. So she blogged about it, without naming him, or the company she worked for; Sarah and Roger do not even give their last names on the blog.

This is what Sarah wrote about her encounter with her boss:

[He said] that first he had to “think” about it and discuss it with his business partner (even though I’ve seen him make other financial decisions – without needing such discussion –such as matching a collection for a wedding gift or for sending flowers or a donation for a death). Then, he had to “lecture” me about how even though he’s the boss, he’s not made of money and how it was a lot of money (my original estimate was $75-100 based on what the bike shop told me). He also had to tell me how the money the company could give for such things comes straight from his pocket and how that’s ballet, violin, horse, and piano lessons for his kids. And that his suffering about his father with Alzheimer’s is more painful than my suffering about Roger. In short, it was very unpleasant. I felt like a beggar child, humiliated for asking for support from a place where I’ve dedicated much of my time and energy.

Final answer was that the company (begrudgingly) would pay $35 toward the shipping costs. I’m not one to participate in head games or be stubborn to spite myself but I honestly felt that I couldn’t accept this contribution under the circumstances. It was quite clear to me that unless the offer of support was his idea, not mine, then it doesn’t have validity and I’m just a mooch, not a soldier’s wife honestly seeking support where I thought it would be. So, I quietly paid the shipping costs then sent an e-mail to my boss letting him know that I didn’t expect my request to generate such an unpleasant situation and that I didn’t realize the money would present such a hardship (the word he used, not me). And that I would not be asking for support from the company again.

In a phone conversation a couple hours ago, Sarah told me that when her boss fired her on Tuesday, he led her to believe that it was because of this blog post. She says the same in a post Tuesday titled You're Fired. She had just been promoted in May, and had worked for the company for 8 years. True, her account is pretty frank, and should probably have been self-censored. But if that's really why she was fired, did she deserve it? That seems harsh.

In that conversation, Sarah was reluctant to give me the name of the company, because she's already spoken to Sam Hemingway of the Burlington Free Press about her story, and hopes that he will write about it. When he does, I'll feel free to post her last name, and will be happy to post a response from her employer.

Maybe she can sue. That's how Ellen Simonetti, formerly of Delta Airlines, is handling her blog-related dismissal.

It's also worth noting that her husband posted about this situation on their blog:

I wanted so badly to jump on a plane and go to her and put my arms around her. This is of course not possible and the Army will not allow it. This makes it all the more frustrating. The next time you want to complain about the inconveniences of air travel, remember the simple freedom of being able to do so. As a civilian you can get on a plane, train, automobile, and go to your loved ones who need you. I'd be sent to prison for such a simple act. Never take your freedom for granted and never give it up.

I simply wanted to serve my country in my own country one weekend a month, two weeks a year and certainly more if I was really needed. Instead I've been sent to a foreign land to help secure a city of ungrateful angry people who want me dead. The people of New Orleans could certainly use my help and would be grateful to have it. I've been denied my home temporarily, my freedom, my wife has lost her job as a result, I've lost the ability to comfort my wife in person, and the ability to help my fellow Americans who really need it.

It is not worth it. 

I'm guessing this is not just a local story.

September 8, 2005 at 06:34 PM in Got blog? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Sunday, August 28, 2005

my spacers

Ok, I guess I've milked the anniversaries enough. Time to move on. Big article on the front page of today's New York Times Sunday Styles section about My Space. I know about the site, and I think I even created an account at one point, but I never really got into it. Ditto with livejournal. I know there are probably zillions of Vermonters who blog on these sites, but as of yet I've only listed a few on my Vermont blogs list.

I'm eager to list them, and map those corners of the VT blogosphere, but I wonder if objective readers are truly interested in reading those diary sites? At what point does that curiousity become voyeurism? I'm not exactly sure. If people are interested in sending me those links, I guess I'm interested in listing them.

August 28, 2005 at 01:58 PM in Got blog? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Blogging and the Workplace

Most people know by now that what you do on the Internet under your own name will almost certainly follow you offline. Amazingly, an editor at the Maimi New Times — an alt. weekly in Miami FL — thought that the usual journalistic rules about libel didn't apply to her blog, where she trashed an employee. At least, that's what it says in this article from Daily Business Review. The editor in question has been suspended and may be sued.

Most cyber-savvy citizens are aware — or should be aware — that bloggers have been fired from their jobs for posting office gossip or proprietary information, or even for making an explicit connection between their blogs and their workplace. Blogging makes employers nervous, the same way having a journalist embedded at their company would make employers nervous. Employers need to understand this medium, and how it can affect their business or organization.

Earlier this year, I discovered that a Vermont blogger had posted information linking him to his/her employer, and realized that the employer in question would likely not approve of the staffperson's blog. I chose not to draw attention to this situation, but I wonder if Vermont's businesses and institutions have caught up with this national trend. Does your workplace have a blogging policy? Do your employers know about your blog? How do you deal with this potential conflict?

July 26, 2005 at 12:30 PM in Got blog? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack