Matt Donegan, 24, a copy editor for the reporter for the Dover Post, was fired from his job Monday for posts he made to his personal blog. I found this article explaining the situation. Apparently, the Post editors canned him after somebody who read his Myspace site called in to a talk radio program to complain about it.
The complainers say that Donegan made offensive remarks. Here's what's being billed as the worst of them:
The blog features many sexual references, along with a complaintabout Donegan's black neighbors partying late into the night Jan. 15because they didn't have to get up for work the following day: MartinLuther King Jr. Day.
"I bet James Earl Ray [King's assassin] waswoken up by black people yelling pointlessly in the streets the nightbefore he killed your civil rights leader," Donegan wrote.
But Donegan says it was all a joke. He says he's not a racist. He points to other satirical comments on his site, and says he's just goofing around. He says the paper violated his right to free speech when it canned him. Hmmm. I wonder if they had a blogging policy at the Dover Post?
I have two comments about this situation. First of all, what a dumbass. The guy works in media and hasn't figured out that anything he writes online can be traced back to him? And he thinks his employers won't care? Gimme a break. Should he have been fired? I don't think I know enough about his relationship with his editors or his work at the paper or his attitude to venture an opinion. But what he did was unprofessional. And truly stupid.
BUT... he brings up an interesting point in a blog post about his termination. He points out that he does, in fact, have a growing audience for his ramblings.
It feels great to have people read what I write; you know, the things that aren't about Capital School Districts financial troubles or goats with No. 3 bleached into their hair by rednecks. Writing that kind of drivel is just about as interesting as reading it — which is not at all.
I think observations like this make media watchers nervous. When gutsy, clever and interesting writers leave newspapers (or get fired) in favor of finding their own audiences online, who will report the "boring" news in the newspapers? More importantly, who will read the papers? Who will pay for the papers?
I think this guy sounds like an asshole, but he's not a bad writer. He might still have a future in journalism. Just maybe not in the newspaper biz.
UPDATE 2/2/05: I take back what I said about not having a future in the newspaper biz. He could write for an edgy alt. weekly... if he wised up and either got permission from his editors to blog, or worked out a deal where they let him do whatever the hell he wants.
One of my editors just forwarded me an email she got from Donegan, who is actively shopping himself and his story to alt. weekly editors. Smart guy. Sounds like he's both looking for a job, and looking for some sympathetic coverage. He says he's contacted a bunch of civil rights orgs and prominent bloggers to take up his case.
And he writes, "While Delaware is a "fire-at-will" state, it's absurd to think someone could be canned for something like this." Well, it might seem absurd, but it's happened many times before, and it will happen again, until people learn that they'll be held accountable for what they publish online. You'd think that with all the media coverage of people GETTING FIRED FROM THEIR JOBS FOR BLOGGING, any reporter worth his notebook might have learned that if you want to avoid this mess, you use a pseudonym. Or at the very least, talk to your boss, find out what the blogging policy is, and work out some kind of understanding.