Isabelle Roughol – The J junkie

The tribulations of a young journalist and writer looking for work

What rules do you follow when blogging about journalism?

with 7 comments

Instead of writing the 3 blog posts I’ve had in mind for a week, I am powering through midterms these days. On this gorgeous Sunday, I am stuck in a coffee shop writing the first draft of my journalism capstone ethics paper. Which gets me to the question: what rules do you follow when blogging about journalism?

I am writing my midterm on the ethics of media blogging. Everyone and their mother has written about blogging ethics, but I am wondering particularly about the rules that apply to blogging about your own industry, the people you work with or might work with, even the very company you work for. How do you blog your honest opinion without burning yourself with future employers? How do you conciliate your journalist’s instinct to spit out all the information you have with your employer’s right to proprietary information? In general, how do you think news organizations are faring, when they praise transparency in the editorial process but are usually pretty defensive on disclosing their business practices, and what can/should bloggers do about it?

As you can tell, the topic is pretty wide. I’m only on the first draft, but I need help. Be kind, share your opinion and pass this request around to media bloggers you know.

Full disclosure: All comments will be sourced/attributed. This is for a footnoted paper that will serve as my ethics statement for my J-school senior assessment. It will be published on the portfolio section of this site, with a handful of industry insiders reading it (a 2-year-old’s handful, really). Excerpts might be used on this blog.


Written by Isabelle Roughol

Sunday, 9 March, 2008 at 19:02

7 Responses

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  1. I don’t really have a set of rules or guidelines that I hold myself to, but if I were to take a look back at my blog posts and analyze what I’ve written about and not written about re: work, I’d boil it down to this:

    1. I don’t say anything negative about my employer unless it’s preceded by something like “Sorry, we screwed this up…”

    1.5. I don’t say empty positive stuff about my employer; I might link to cool stuff put together by me and/or my colleagues, but I don’t expect my readers to be impressed/interested in that all the time.

    2. I don’t disclose anything about my employer in my blog that I wouldn’t print in a daily newspaper.

    3. I write whatever I want about other companies/papers, etc. I certainly criticized the Sentinel before they hired me.

    4. I try not to put myself in positions where I’m defending the actions of my employer. I don’t aspire to be the “public face” of a news organization or its parent company.

    5. File all of this under “be honest.” I never want to find myself in a spot where I can’t answer someone’s questions honestly.

    Ryan Sholin

    Monday, 10 March, 2008 at 00:13

  2. I’m a self-employed journalist, media consultant, and blogger — been self-employed for about a dozen years. Most of my clients are news orgs or orgs that serve journalists (like the Poynter Institute).

    Since traditional newsroom jobs are waning, we self-employed journos are becoming a bigger part of the pie, so this perspective should probably be represented here.

    When it comes to blogging about clients, I’m fine about publicly blogging what my clients are doing, and what I’m doing for them, if the news is already out there. For instance, on I’m clearly listed as the editor of the E-Media Tidbits weblog ( So on my personal blog,, I often mention what I’m doing for Poynter.

    Some clients request private research, training, or strategy advice, and these I don’t blog about.

    I don’t tend to trash people I work with publicly in any way, so to me not blogging trash talk is just an extension of not saying in public (or to anyone I don’t trust) anything I don’t want repeated or published in any way.

    Sometimes I speak in generalities about problems I’ve encountered in various organizations. Sometimes that experience is drawn from client work — but more often it’s from orgs I’m researching, or what I’ve heard first-hand from people I trust.

    That said, I have occasionally skewered journalistic organizations (and their practices) that I have not worked with, but I think that’s fair game within my role as a media commentator. Am I alienating potential clients there? Perhaps, but I don’t worry about it. In at least three cases organizations I’ve criticized have ended up hiring me to work on the very issues I criticized them about, so go figure. (I wouldn’t use that as a marketing strategy, but still…)

    In general, if you’re self-employed I find it helps to maintain a generally positive and constructive attitude in your communications. But don’t shy away from telling the truth if you really need to. IMHO, if you plan to say something publicly (like on a blog) the right thing to do is say it to people’s faces first, if you’re dealing with people you work with or for. And accept that by going public there will be consequences. If you can’t hack that, don’t do it.

    IMHO, of course,

    – Amy Gahran

    Amy Gahran

    Monday, 10 March, 2008 at 00:43

  3. Thanks for your help Ryan and Amy. My midterm is turning into a PhD dissertation at this point, but this is all really helpful. Keep ’em coming.


    Monday, 10 March, 2008 at 01:06

  4. I write as a resource for other editors in the newsroom and as part of the conversation in the industry about its future.

    I write more about my own newsroom lately than I thought I would, but it’s gentle and mostly examples from our experiences to illustrate some of the questions the industry faces.

    I don’t ask permission to write about something, but I’m not a flamethrower. I blog as if I enjoy my job, because I do. I’m not sure if my bosses even read what I write, until one of them mentions a point I’ve raised.

    Because of a blog entry on the future of copy editing, I was interviewed for the newsletter of the American Copy Editors Society. I wondered what the reaction would be in the newsroom, but it was positive.

    I’m actually kind of surprised that people aren’t coming up to me and saying “So what did you mean by that line in your blog about …” But my role is to try things online and I have enough room to do that.

    Brian Cubbison

    Monday, 10 March, 2008 at 02:09

  5. I’m not sure I fit in this string, but I’ll try: I left the Gannett Co., publisher of USA Today and 84 other dailies, in January, after 20 years as a reporter and an editor. I now blog daily about Gannett on a variety of topics — from trends in the company’s stock price, to posts based on leaked documents, to an occasional analysis of Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

    I write the facts, but with a lot of attitude; there’s no doubt that I have major doubts about current top management. The stakes are high, and no one else seems to be tracking Gannett: the No. newspaper publisher and one of the largest private employers, with about 46,000 employees.

    Obviously, since I’m no longer employed by Gannett, I can’t be fired. I’m not sure I even want to return to traditional newspaper work, so whether my blog prevents that from happening isn’t a big deal right now. Instead, this blog is a sort of public-service project: helping Gannett’s employees organize online, so they can do a better job protecting themselves during a painful restructuring.

    Jim Hopkins

    Monday, 10 March, 2008 at 07:10

  6. […] What rules do you follow when blogging about journalism? | “Which rules apply to blogging about your own industry, the people you work with or might work with, even the very company you work for. How do you blog your honest opinion without burning yourself with future employers?” (tags: blogging journalism ethics career processes tidbits+fodder) […] - links for 2008-03-10

    Monday, 10 March, 2008 at 16:29

  7. […] What rules do you follow when blogging about journalism?  5 Jim Hopkins […] […]

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