Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Depending on the local media Web site you visit, blogs of all sorts can be a daily fixture or a future promise, and the rules governing employees’ contributions to unaffiliated sites are equally varied, if they exist at all.

Steve Dolge, Internet operations manager at WTOP, runs a personal Web log about his triathlon training and said the news radio site will start some blogs this year. But WTOP has no immediate plans to write a personal blogging policy “since we haven’t had the need for it.”

WUSA-TV (Channel 9) also lacks a formal policy, but if the subject matter of an employee’s personal blog was in any way related to their job, management would want to review it, said Darryll Green, the station president and general manager. He added that scenario has not yet occurred.

Vickie Burns, vice president of news and operations at WRC-TV (Channel 4), said there is no specific rule at the station on blogging, but the policy governing employees’ “outside activities” is that they must be “approved in advance by the news director and the station reserves the right to review the material before publication.”

Representatives from WTTG-TV (Channel 5) and WJLA-TV (Channel 7) said there are no plans to institute personal blogging policies.

“They’re asking for trouble not to anticipate the future they’re going to run into,” said Edward Wasserman, professor of journalism ethics at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., because employees’ personal blogs could create “separate public profiles for themselves on matters of public concern.”

If, for example, a reporter who covers real estate writes in a blog about his personal feelings on the Iraq war, there’s no apparent conflict. But what if one of the reporter’s sources reads the blog, is offended, and so no longer comments for real estate stories because of the blog entries?

Journalists have the right to blog about whatever they choose, but management has the right to impose standards against anything that would “impair their ability to be seen as evenhanded, fair-minded reporters working for us,” he said.

It’s not an ethical issue as much as a public relations problem. “It has the potential of harming the organizations’ ability to report news in the community,” Mr. Wasserman said.

The Washington Times, The Washington Post and washingtonpost.com have different rules.

The Times requires staffers to first obtain permission from senior editors. Permission is granted as long as the blog duties are not done during work hours, the topics are different from the employees’ newspaper beat, and nothing is published about The Times itself.

At washingtonpost.com, employees must let editors review their personal blogs, said Executive Editor Jim Brady. As long as there are no conflicts of interest, there’s no problem.

Editors would ask the dot-com staffer to take the site down if there was a conflict of interest or if confidential company information were posted, but that has never happened, Mr. Brady said.

The Washington Post did not return calls for comment.

FishbowlDC.com, a media gossip blog, is unique because it’s managed by two editors who work full time at local publications, Garrett Graff at Washingtonian magazine and Patrick Gavin at the Washington Examiner. Both men also have contracts with New York-based Mediabistro.com Inc.

To avoid ethical conflicts, they agreed that if a controversial story becomes public about their respective publications, the other editor blogs about it.

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