CNN creates blogging policy, encourages employees to engage in sockpuppetry

cnn sockpuppetChez Pazienza, a former CNN producer who was fired six months ago for having a personal blog, obtained a copy of the new blogging policy that his former employer sent out to all staff (I’ve also copy and pasted it below). While it allows employees to blog, they have to get it approved by a supervisor and it bars them from mentioning anything that CNN would cover — in other words, it keeps them from talking about just about anything but their own belly lint. And even that would be ruled out if we all found out tomorrow that a new form of AIDS is spread through belly lint.

What especially caught my eye was the rules for commenting on other websites or chat rooms:

It depends on what you’re commenting on. A chat room is, of course, a public place. If you identify yourself, or could in any way be identified, then you should not comment on anything CNN reports on. Remember, even though you don’t say who you are, someone else might reveal your identity. AND if you’re discussing things that are in the news, keep in mind you could be seen as representing CNN, and therefore you should not comment on the issues CNN covers.

Is it just me, or is the company openly suggesting that its employees should engage in sockpuppetry?

I would have contacted CNN for comment, but I gave up looking for their media contact page after about two minutes.

And here’s the entire policy:

***NEW CNN POLICY REGARDING PERSONAL WRITINGS ONLINE***

We’ve gotten a number of questions from CNN staff wanting clarification of CNN policy on communicating publicly about our work, or on news or public affairs — on the internet. In Blogs. In Chatrooms. On video sharing sites. On social networking sites.

Below are some of the typical questions — and our answers. We hope this is helpful to everyone,

After reading — please don’t hesitate to call or email anyone at Standards and Practices if you have further questions. (See contact info below).

MOST IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER:

UNLESS GIVEN PERMISSION BY CNN MANAGEMENT, CNN EMPLOYEES ARE TO AVOID TAKING PUBLIC POSITIONS ON THE ISSUES AND PEOPLE AND ORGANIZATIONS ON WHICH WE REPORT.

The best rule of thumb is, keep in mind whether what you are doing or saying is “in public.” In most cases, what you write online is public or can be made public.

CAN I COMMENT IN A CHAT ROOM?

It depends on what you’re commenting on. A chat room is, of course, a public place. If you identify yourself, or could in any way be identified, then you should not comment on anything CNN reports on. Remember, even though you don’t say who you are, someone else might reveal your identity. AND if you’re discussing things that are in the news, keep in mind you could be seen as representing CNN, and therefore you should not comment on the issues CNN covers.

HOW ABOUT MYSPACE, FACEBOOK OR OTHER SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES?

Again, on these sites only write about something CNN would not report on. Don’t list preferences regarding political parties or newsmakers that are the subject of CNN reporting. Local issues that CNN wouldn’t report on would be OK. And of course private communication with friends or family about issues that aren’t in the news is fine. If you are not sure, ask your supervisor or S&P for parameters on posting. (S&P contact info is listed below).

Also keep in mind that you should not be commenting or writing about what goes on in the workplace at CNN without specific approval by CNN senior managers. For example, in some cases there have and will be exceptions made to have some staff get information out to an outside audience on platforms like Twitter about our upcoming coverage plans.

But without those approved exceptions, your workplace activity is proprietary and so you should not be writing on these sites about what goes on behind the scenes here at CNN.

CAN I POST MY WORK ON YOUTUBE, PODCASTS OR OTHER VIDEO SHARING SITES?

You should not post any CNN material online unless it is approved. Likewise, if you make a short video on your own time, if there’s any question about it being something that CNN might air, first ask someone before posting it. And again, if the subject touches on anything you might cover or CNN reports or may report on, you should likely stay away from it. If it is a close call, ask your supervisor or S&P.

CAN I POST TO iReport.com?

This site was developed specifically for non-CNN material, so no, you shouldn’t. However, a separate procedure has been developed for CNN’ers to send in material. It’s called weReport and you can see the details for how it works at http://sketch.turner.com/wereport. As always, if you capture pictures or video on news stories call the national desk and they’ll help you arrange to feed it in.

HOW ABOUT SECOND LIFE?

CNN’ers are encouraged to visit Second Life, just keep in mind it’s a public place and the same rules (listed above) apply as they would to “real” public life.

CAN I HAVE MY OWN WEBSITE OR BLOG?

Yes. But you should notify your supervisor about it, to have it cleared as a non-conflict for your work. Your supervisor may choose to then have it cleared at another level or by S&P. And again, you shouldn’t post commentary on anything you might cover in your work or CNN may report on, or write about the CNN workplace or post CNN material without permission by a senior CNN manager.

WHAT ABOUT POSTING LINKS TO OTHER WEBSITES, ARTICLES FROM OTHER PUBLICATIONS AND VIDEO FROM OTHER SOURCES?

Again, if your web activity clearly shows that you are taking a position on an issue CNN reports on or is likely to report on, you should avoid such activity.

In addition, you should not operate under an alias on your website or blog in order to participate in biased public behavior. Despite your use of an alias to express a view that may present a conflict of interest, it is still your opinion. Your real identity and occupation could be revealed by someone else at any point.

WHY SHOULDN’T I COMMENT ON NEWS OR CURRENT AFFAIRS?

Unless given permission to comment publicly on the issues or people we report on as a CNN analyst or commentator, it is important that you and all other CNN employees be independent and objective regarding the news and people that we cover.

If you publicly declare your preference for issues or candidates or one side or the other of the public policy issues CNN reports on, then your ability to be viewed as objective is compromised.

We appreciate that everyone has a life outside work and we encourage all of our employees to get involved with the issues that are important within their communities. That said, you need to avoid any appearance of bias or partiality. It’s just one of the responsibilities associated with working for a news organization.

WHAT IF I DON’T WORK DIRECTLY WITH NEWS GATHERING OR NEWS REPORTING BUT ELSEWHERE WITHIN THE SUPPORTING DEPARTMENTS OF CNN?

In discussions about this issue with your colleagues across CNN, it was felt by them that it was important to have this policy apply across the board. If you don’t follow this policy, and you are officially a CNN employee, the loss of objectivity won’t just apply to you, but could be associated with CNN. Therefore this policy applies to all CNN employees in all departments worldwide.

WHAT ABOUT FREELANCE EMPLOYEES AND INTERNS?

Supervisors should make sure freelancers and interns read this policy now — or on their first day going forward — and commit to following it.

CAN I GIVE SPEECHES, OR WRITE ABOUT CNN?

CNN reserves the right to say who gives speeches or makes personal appearances on behalf of CNN. A number of your colleagues do give speeches to schools, colleges, and other organizations. Those requests must first be approved by your supervisor and then will go through CNN PR for review. PR will bring them to S&P for final review and approval taking into consideration who the invitation is from, the subject matter to be discussed — and/or whether travel expenses/an honorarium are being paid. Our employees write books, and occasionally do other outside writing, but it all must be approved by your supervisor first, and then by PR and by S&P as appropriate. This policy is outlined in Section E of the Standards & Practices Policy Guide. Every employee should have a Guide and should read it and review it. (If you don’t have a Guide, please ask your HR representative for one.)

9 Comments

  1. Sunny Says:

    Very interesting…..:)

  2. PalMD Says:

    And of course private communication with friends or family about issues that aren’t in the news is fine.

    So you can’t talk to your family about Obama? Lovely.

  3. Coturnix Says:

    Like with Chez, they are paranoid, and they are a couple of decades out of date in their understanding of the media.

    They have armies of potential loyalists and defenders and PR folks out there on the Web and instead of letting them lose to do the PR job for CNN in their free time, they are stifling them. And they may thus breed resentment and this policy may result in even more disgruntled employees who will start looking for jobs in more enlightened media organizations – online.

  4. John McKay Says:

    So, if you freelance one lousy story to CNN, they want to have a controlling veto over anything you say anywhere, ever. This sounds like a rule that will be given about as much respect as the no pets in the apartment rule.

  5. tasteslikechicken Says:

    If I’m a CNN employee, am I permitted to post fawning articles about presidential candidates besides Obama?

  6. Dan Collins Says:

    “Bob, I need to talk to you.”
    “Hmmm. Is it about anything CNN is reporting on or might report on, dear? Because, if so I’ll just go back to reading the newspaper.”

  7. Ralph Gizzip Says:

    UNLESS GIVEN PERMISSION BY CNN MANAGEMENT, CNN EMPLOYEES ARE TO AVOID TAKING PUBLIC POSITIONS ON THE ISSUES AND PEOPLE AND ORGANIZATIONS ON WHICH WE REPORT.

    Essentially, keep your mouth shut so the masses can’t tell how deeply our bias is ingrained.

  8. Pat R. Says:

    Encourage sockpuppetry?

    In addition, you should not operate under an alias on your website or blog in order to participate in biased public behavior. Despite your use of an alias to express a view that may present a conflict of interest, it is still your opinion. Your real identity and occupation could be revealed by someone else at any point.

    Not so much.

  9. John Welsh Says:

    I think your posting at the same time as William Patry gives up his – http://johnwelsh.wordpress.com/2008/08/05/bloggers-as-employees-of-big-corporations-what-are-the-rules/ – really hammers home how the rules for bloggers are only now beginning to be set about the relationship between employer and employer.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin