Why Blogging About Your Employer is a Bad Idea

Q. Unlike many in my graduating class, I was lucky enough to graduate with a job, albeit not in journalism. I was accepted by Teach For America to teach in an inner-city school district. My commitment is for two years, but because various federal grants become available after four and five years of teaching in high-need areas, I will likely be teaching longer.

While I’m excited for this opportunity and feel passionate about TFA’s cause, I still want to return to journalism once my teaching stint is over. To keep my writing chops fresh, I plan to blog about my experience teaching. The district I will be teaching in was ranked lower than New Orleans and is infamous for its ineffective governance. There have been many large-scale changes in the school district’s administrative structure recently, and like the rest of the nation, layoffs have hit area teachers hard.

I’d like to use my blog to cover developments in the educational system. I’d also like to draw from my own experiences as a new teacher to shed light on challenges our students and teachers face and highlight areas of success and failure in the district’s structure. I worry, however, that although I would provide a disclaimer saying the blog is my own and does not represent the views of the district, school or TFA, it will be difficult to write about my experience honestly and comment on the state of education in the region if I’m employed by the school district. Also, since being a new Teach For America corps member is unlike being a traditional new teacher, I don’t believe it would be possible to include my first-person accounts without disclosing my affiliation with TFA.

What can I expect if I attempt to begin my professional journalism career after spending five-ish years teaching? Do you advise against blogging about your employers, or are there tactful ways to do this? And if I publish a blog that includes my first-person account of teaching and the views I develop about the system along the way, will that jeopardize my integrity as an objective journalist? Might it strengthen my chances as an editorial columnist?

While I clearly need to find some way to keep doing journalism if I plan to re-enter the industry years down the road, will this plan do more harm than good to my journalistic potential?

New grad
 

A. You’ve asked a few things here, so let me give you a few things to think about:
  • Journalism is changing rapidly. What we see today will not be where we are in several years. Expect more kinds of opportunities, but not as many in what we now see as traditional media.
  • It is generally a bad idea to blog about your employer, especially when you may, journalistically, need to be critical and when there are confidentiality rules involved. You would be writing about situations in which minors are involved. Your first concern about the content of your blog should be how it hits your employers, peers, students and their families, not whether it make you look good for later. You would be trading a modest future benefit for potentially disastrous consequences right now.
  • Post-teaching, you are far more likely to be considered for a reporting job than one as a columnist or editorial writer. Teaching experience might make you a great candidate for a job covering education. Aim for that as a transitional step. Your opinion won’t matter as much as your abilities to gather news and explain it in compelling ways.
You’re smart to look for a way to keep your journalistic skills sharp, but don’t jeopardize your job to do that.

What about you? Do you have a career question? E-mail Joe for an answer.

Coming Wednesday: Join me and Poynter’s Colleen Eddy at 1 p.m. ET for a live chat about what to negotiate for when an increase in pay isn’t an option.

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