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Free Expression Can Be Costly When Bloggers Bad-Mouth Jobs

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 11, 2005; Page A01

Under the pseudonym of Sarcastic Journalist, Rachel Mosteller wrote this entry on her personal Web log one day last April:

"I really hate my place of employment. Seriously. Okay, first off. They have these stupid little awards that are supposed to boost company morale. So you go and do something 'spectacular' (most likely, you're doing your JOB) and then someone says 'Why golly, that was spectacular.' then they sign your name on some paper, they bring you chocolate and some balloons.

Rachel Mosteller blames her firing from a newspaper on her Sarcastic Journalist blog. (Michael Stravato For The Washington Post)

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"Okay two people in the newsroom just got it. FOR DOING THEIR JOB."

This post, like all entries in Mosteller's online diary, did not name her company or the writer. It did not name co-workers or bosses. It did not say where the company was based. But apparently, Mosteller's supervisors and co-workers at the Durham (N.C.) Herald-Sun were well aware of her Web log.

The day after that posting, she was fired.

Bill Stagg, managing editor of the Herald-Sun, said he could not comment on a personnel matter. But Mosteller, 25, said the blog was one of the reasons she was given for losing her job, and she is still in shock. "Considering I treated the blog as a smoke break, I didn't think of it as a problem."

There are 8 million personal Web logs -- or blogs -- in the United States, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. People write blogs to talk about their day, family outings, dates gone awry and, of course, work. But what might feel like a very personal entry about a dismal workday can mean something quite different to a boss who needs only a search engine to read it.

"We all complain about work and our bosses. And the ethos of the blogosphere is to be chatty and sometimes catty and crude," said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew project. "Even in an era of casual Fridays, that is not what companies want to be portrayed by the world."

Even if workers write the blog anonymously, an employer may be able to take the position that blogging "is inconsistent with the business mission," said Jonathan A. Segal, an employment attorney in Philadelphia.

Usually the blogger has little protection. "In most states," said Gregg M. Lemley, a St. Louis labor lawyer, "if an employer doesn't like what you're talking about, they can simply terminate you."

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