Outing points out that in many cases, things don’t go well. Reporters “have been fired or punished because of their personal blogs,” he writes. Landmines include when “a simple family blog written by a reporter might contain a reference to trouble at work, or discontent with a boss. It’s so easy for such an item — meant for a tiny group but accessible by the entire Web world — to take on a life of its own and spread to a huge audience, embarrassing not only the employer but also the employee.” The result: Tightly controlled personal blogs, both by the employers, and by the writers, who tend to be increasingly careful of what they write for fear of creating trouble.
Outing also cites cases of “resentment and morale problems from those who consider the blogs they publish on their own time to be an important part of who they are.” A lot of these end up being anonymous, operating without the knowledge of their bosses. That means there may be a lot of ticking time bombs out there, once those folk are outed.
The bottom line for me is this: Journalists (I don’t include columnists here, who are paid to have opinions) should be careful that anything they write or say in public does not compromise their objectivity. There are the obvious topics — usually politics — which journalists would be well advised to stay clear of, whether or not they’re writing on their spare time. Someone who reads a casual remark on a blog that indicates a political bias is justified in feeling that same journalist may not lend balance to his/her reporting when they’re on the job.
That said, journalists are inveterate writers, and blogs are a wonderful place to scratch that itch — especially, I imagine, for editors frustrated they are not out there reporting, or reporters on a beat that’s not their preferred one. I can’t see anything wrong with a political reporter getting hot under the collar about the disturbed migration patterns of the Lesser Bluebacked Hedge Warbler (I know I’m pretty upset), so long as the causes of the disturbance are not political in origin. (Of course, they almost certainly are, knowing politicians. But I can’t say that.)