Professional Bloggers

In a stroke of fate straight out of The Secret, I’ve been meaning to post about the unique situations that professional bloggers are faced with.  What’s the stroke of fate, you might ask?  I, myself, have now become a professional blogger.

That’s right – someone will be paying me to blog for them.  You can read my debut entry over at Information Space, the Official Blog of the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University.  Look for at least one entry a week in that space.  I’m also pursuing some other opportunities that may result in more blog exposure, so stay tuned for those.

Back to the issue at hand – professional bloggers.  The idea behind this post grows out of the recent kerfuffle between the family of 8 year old Mikey Hicks, who can’t get off of the Terrorist Watch List and the TSA’s Official Blogger, Bob.

In a recent post, just two days after Mikey was featured in the above-linked New York Times article, Bob wrote:

It’s inevitable that every several months or so, some cute kid gets their mug posted on a major news publication with a headline reading something like: “Does this look like a terrorist to you?” Anything involving kids or cats gets tons of mileage and everybody starts tweeting and retweeting that there’s an 8 year old on the no fly list.

Bob.  This is not good.  This is not the way to endear the TSA to the American citizens that they are supposed to serve.  Especially not good considering that your fellow TSA employees are busy putting baggies of white powder in traveler’s bags.

The blog should be your chance to generate some goodwill, to show us another side of the TSA and its employees.  Instead, Bob, you used the blog (and taxpayer dollars – your salary, remember?) to add insult to injury to the Hicks family.

Now, the story keeps getting interesting.  After an absolute firestorm in the comments section, 199 at the time of this writing, Bob posted an update:

I want to clarify that my post wasn’t directed at this or any family who have been inconvenienced in situations such as this, but more at the perpetual reporting that there are children on the No Fly list.

Unfortunately, I’m not buying Bob’s story about his post not being “directed at this or any family.”  But Bob also said something that I found very interesting:

For anybody who is new to the TSA Blog, please know that I’m a blogger and not an official TSA media spokesperson.  The way I write and address issues is different than a spokesperson would address issues with traditional media.

So – Bob is not an “official TSA media spokesperson,” but he is employed full time a blog that “is sponsored by the Transportation Security Administration.”  How, then, are we supposed to interpret Bob’s commentary?

Should we picture Bob the same way we might picture the grocery check-out clerk – someone who is employed at the firm, engages daily with the public and customers, but is not the spokesperson?  If that’s the case, how are we to interpret Bob’s comments about the attempted Christmas Day bombing?  Is this more like water-cooler gossip?  Or does it carry some weight?

The point here is that official bloggers (typically denoted by the fact that they’re paid, which puts them amongst the rare minority of bloggers as a whole) must blog as if their comments are official comments.  If you don’t want your comments to portray the official position of the agency, then don’t post them on the official blog.

For most industries, this is the standard practice.  In fact, many organizations are using blogs and Twitter to make product announcements, or other official confirmations – see Sprint, for example.  In my own, albeit new, professional role, I will be conscious of my posts and their content.

My only hope is that the TSA do the same — I’m looking at you, Bob.

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