This is Going to Be A Long One, So Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You

So the story goes something like this:

A reporter from the Washington Post contacted me last November and asked if I’d be willing to contribute my experience to her article on the perils of blogging about your job. She’d heard and read about what had happened to me, that on February 26, 2002, my boss pulled me into a corner conference room and told me that the company no longer had any use for me, that the CEO had read an email from an anonymous person alerting everyone to my website and that I should be fired instantly.

The Post reporter and I talked for several hours on the telephone, and I felt comfortable enough in our conversation to let her know details about the firing that I hadn’t ever revealed on the website. Details like, my boss said the words to me, “You’re being fired because of your website.” The Human Resources rep. who escorted me to my car, however, sort of fumbled a memorized speech and said on the way out the door, “Um, lemme think, um, we’re not firing you for your website, I think. I guess we’re not allowed to do that. Um, let’s just say the official reason is that it’s just not a good fit.”

I found it interesting that no less than a month before the firing I had been lauded in a company-wide email for coming up with a sleek interface to a new software product, and I was described as helping to take the company “to the next level.” God, how I don’t miss working in an office where I had top-level deliverables on my plate coming down the pipe which most of my co-workers were SMOKING on a daily basis.

A few days before the Post story ran the reporter contacted me again to find out the name of the company that fired me, primarily so that she could call and backup my claims. I understood her need to do this, but I told her that I wasn’t comfortable giving up the name of the company. I had never named the company on my website, nor had I ever revealed names of the people whose personalities or characteristics I had used in some of the sketches I had written of co-workers. My purpose in writing about my job WAS NOT to slander the company or to endanger the integrity of their product. I also have not pursued legal action against the company because I believe that I don’t have a legitimate case. I do not think, however, that the company that fired me would extend any sort of grace to me if they found out that I was taking this story to the press and giving their names to journalists.

The Post reporter, perhaps in an act of sheer kindness or mercy, decided not to push it any further and said that she could still use my story as long as I was cited as an anonymous source. The story ran in December, and I was referred to as a 27-yr old web designer living in Los Angeles. I did not receive any traffic from the story, which brings me to the first point I want to make with today’s entry:

Contrary to what many have said to me in recent emails, I do not believe that I am trying to exploit what happened to me to get more traffic to my site. Yes, the initial post about losing my job was linked to by several high-level community sites, and many of the readers I have now came to my site as a result. But I am also now THAT GIRL who lost her job because of her website, a label I will always have to wear and one that I don’t think I will ever entirely transcend. I am not complaining about this label, nor do I consider it a crutch, necessarily. I do feel, however, a sort of social responsibility in sharing this experience as a cautionary tale to other bloggers and any potential bloggers who even for a second think that what they publish online can’t hurt them offline.

So when a reporter from The New York Times called and asked me to contribute to his story, I told him immediately that I would be more than happy to answer any of his questions as long as he didn’t ask about the name of the company that fired me. We talked for about 20 minutes, and I gave him more details about what had happened between me and my family more so than what had happened between me an my former employers.

And I don’t know if it came across in the article or not, but I cannot stress enough how terribly devastating it was for my family to read my website. It’s not a time in my life I like to think about, and if I could erase from my mind the late night phone call from my father wherein he dismissed me as a “vile and disgusting human being” who had succumbed like a weakling to “the dark side,” I would take back EVERYTHING I had written that had hurt them. For the record, I never explicitly called my family “technophobes,” but I think that was the only creative license the reporter took in relaying the details of my story. So, for those of you who were curious, NO, this Times reporter fabricated nothing.

I assumed that in the Times article I would be quoted anonymously as I was in the Post story, and so I didn’t go into the interview thinking that I would exploit my family for traffic. I realized that they were going to use my name, however, when I got a call last Thursday from someone at the Times who said they’d like to send a photographer over to my home to take a picture for the article. The call totally surprised me, but ultimately I didn’t see the harm in the interview and agreed to the photograph.

Fifteen minutes later I received a knock on my door from Deseret News photographer, Tom Smart, who also happens to be Elizabeth Smart’s uncle. He’d been told on the drive over that he would be taking a picture of a “blogger” whose anti-Mormon rants had alienated her from her family, and when he showed up to my home he was visibly interested in my story. I wasn’t sure initially if he was related to the Smarts, but when he said he was curious because he was himself the only member of his family who wasn’t a member of the Mormon Church, I couldn’t help but ask him, somewhat cautiously, “Are you related to THE Smarts?” He nodded softly, and I invited him to have a seat on my couch. For the next two hours he told me about the last year of his family’s ordeal in striking detail, things I hadn’t heard on the news, and every two or three minutes I had to check my surroundings to make sure that I wasn’t being Punk’d or set up for “Candid Camera.” He is probably one of the kindest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting in my entire life, and I felt so humbled sitting there having HIM take MY picture for a story that is NOTHING in comparison to what he has lived through. He reminded me that we take risks with our art, and that sometimes we can fall on our face, and sometimes we can succeed brilliantly, you just have to live with both.

And so I guess there is no second point I wanted to make with this entry today, only that despite the hate mail and the negative attention, and depsite losing my job and the consequent humiliation, and despite the pain I have put my family through, I do feel good about what I do here. I’ve used the pain, the criticism, and the restrictions to try and become a better writer. I know that I have specific responsibilities to my family, to my husband, and to my friends, and that I can’t just say anything I want to say, no matter HOW BADLY my na�ve sense of “freedom” urges me to do so. There is no such thing as unadulterated freedom of speech with a blog, not if you’re brave enough to tack on your real name to what you write.

Tom Smart’s photograph obviously didn’t make it into the article, probably because they thought I’d be some sort of punk rock web grrrrrl, and I turned out to be a rather harmless, domesticated posterchild for a quilting guild. Here is the photograph of THAT GIRL who lost her job because of her website if you’d like to see it, at least until the Times sends me a cease and desist order. And that would totally be SO cool.