Fight for your right.. to blog

Glenn Reynolds, of Instapundit, has posted the second of his two part series on The Future of Blogs and the Blogosphere – and sees a battle brewing.His, reasonable, prediction is that

“Over the next few years, blogs will grow both more and less significant. They’ll grow more significant because more people will be reading them, and — at least as important — more people will be writing them. That will expand their impact considerably. On the other hand, they’ll grow less significant, in a way, because they’ll grow more ordinary. Like other communications media, from newspapers to email, they’ll just become part of the background, and their particular thread of impact will be less noticeable”

But in the process he warns, again, that “‘[I]f Big Media let their position go without a fight to keep it by fair means or foul, they’ll be the first example of a privileged group that did so. So beware.’ I think we’re already beginning to see signs of that backlash, in the wake of the humiliation visited on Big Media by RatherGate — and the press establishment’s general lack of enthusiasm for free speech for others (as evidenced by its support for campaign finance “reform”) suggests that it’ll be happy to see alternative media muzzled. You want to keep this media revolution going? Be ready to fight for it.”

In addition to his general argument I’d draw attention to two other stories that caught my eye. One, reported by the BBC, on a US airline attendant fighting for her job after she was suspended, seemingly for the content of her personal blog – Blogger grounded by her airline. The other, in the NY Times is an article on “advertising agencies and communications professionals.. using blogs to create discussion about ideas within their industries”.

The BBC article highlights how some companies are starting to become increasingly wary, and vigilant, of the content of employees blogs. The article quotes Jeffrey Matsuura, director of the law and technology programme at the University of Dayton –

personal websites can be hazardous for both employers and their employees.

“There are many examples of employees who have presented some kind of material online that have gotten them in trouble with employers,” he said.

It was crucial that any policy about what was and what was not acceptable was expressed clearly, was reasonable, and enforced fairly in company policy.

“You have to remember that as an employee, you don’t have total free speech anymore,” he said.

Mr Matsuura added that some companies actively encouraged employees to blog.

“One of the areas where it does become a problem is that they encourage this when it suits them, but they may not be particularly clear when they [employees] do cross the line.”

The NY Times article, while charting the expansion of ‘blogland’, focuses on the same business-risk related theme –

[Advertising] Agencies with blogs, though, are in a minority. For many, particularly the large networks, the potential risks still outweigh the benefits.

“Blogs are in fashion, and it is easy to hop on the bandwagon and say that every company should have one,” said Linda Sawyer, managing partner and chief operating officer at Deutsch in New York, a unit of the Interpublic Group of Companies and an agency without a blog. “The questions any smart marketer should be asking are, ‘Does this provide a platform to connect with their most relevant audiences and how will this address business objectives?’ ”

“That’s not to say we would never enter blogland,” Ms. Sawyer said, “but there is a fine line between being timely, topical and keeping current while making sure that we are doing what’s best for our business long term.”

The biggest fear is an uncontrolled message slipping out, said Steve Rubel, vice president for client services at CooperKatz & Company in New York, a public relations agency with clients including the Association of National Advertisers, J. P. Morgan Chase and Wendy’s. “Do they allow comments or do they not? Is there an implication if it is a publicly traded firm? Who is the one who should blog for us? How might that choice be received in the company?”

Glenn Reynolds may be right to focus on the “press establishment’s general lack of enthusiasm for free speech for others”, after all, that is the arena where the public battle will be won or lost – but they won’t be the only players with an interest in the outcome.