January 14, 2005

Bookseller Cashiered for Blogging

WE NOTE WITH INTEREST a story out of Scotland today, in which one Joe Gordon, a bookseller for the Waterstone's chain, has been cashiered for venting about his job on his blog.

As we understand it from The Guardian, Mr Gordon's blog sometimes made mention of his boss, using impressively inventive prose. For instance, Mr Gordon referred to his supervisor as "Evil Boss." But he did not stop there. Mr Gordon declared his immediate superior was a "sandal-wearing bastard" and used other colorful phrases to describe the man -- and was so clever in this regard we actually had to look some of those phrases up. Unfortunately for Mr Gordon, Waterstone's was keeping an eye on his blog, and decided to cashier him at its first opportunity for gross misconduct.

Now, we do think Mr Gordon screwed up mightily in referring to his work and his workplace on his blog. This would generally put one on thin ice anyway if this was not cleared first, but to openly criticize one's immediate superior is pretty much just asking for a good kick in the ass. It is no surprise Waterstone's got rid of him, especially if Mr Gordon was giving his boss a hard time.

But Mr Gordon has a few jokers of his own to play. For one thing, he worked in a rank-and-file capacity. As such, his transgressions were necessarily less consequential than if, say, a marketing executive fell into the pool at a company function. For another, we understand Mr Gordon was an experienced employee and quite competent in his work. But we see two trump cards for Mr Gordon that might not otherwise apply in a more normal situation; for instance, if Mr Gordon was a district sales manager for a tire firm.

The most obvious trump card, of course, is that Mr Gordon worked for a bookseller. As such, he will get sympathy up the wazoo, and Waterstone's is going to find itself in the midst of a public-relations nightmare. Actually, it already is. For the story is all over the British press, and pretty much every blogger in the world is going to discuss it in the next three days. For bloggers are kind of like piranhas in this respect: if the piranhas find a cow standing in the water, all of them gang up to devour it. It is impossible to counteract such harsh and overbearing criticism from all corners -- absolutely impossible. If anything good comes out of this, it will be that public-relations folks everywhere now know what not to do when such situations arise. They could have just spoken with him and left it -- he would have gotten the message.

But let's say it again: Mr Gordon worked for a bookseller. As such, there is the very real question of whether Mr Gordon has actually sinned. For everyone expects bookstore employees, like folks working at record shops, to be at least a bit passionate. In our view, Mr Gordon could have written all manner of outlandish things and no one would have batted an eye; it's just that he didn't consider the consequences when calling his boss, and we quote -- oh, hold on. It's the phone.

STANDARDS DEPARTMENT: You are not putting that phrase in your essay. Absolutely not.
Mr KEPPLE: What, a cheeky s-------?
STANDARDS DEPARTMENT: Quit that! It's right out. Who ever heard of a seven-letter curse word starting with S?
Mr KEPPLE: Well, he wrote it. What am I supposed to do?
STANDARDS DEPARTMENT: You may use the word "frack."
Mr KEPPLE: FRACK?
STANDARDS DEPARTMENT: Yes, "frack."
Mr KEPPLE: Well, frack. Hey, wait. Doesn't that violate Interoffice Style Memorandum No. 78? The one which forbids us from using words and phrases invented in the Seventies?
STANDARDS DEPARTMENT: Nope. Battlestar Galactica had a spinoff in 1980, in which Starbuck returned in the last episode.
Mr KEPPLE: Yeah? Well, up your nose with a garden --
STANDARDS DEPARTMENT: Do we have to call HR on this?

Frack. OK, anyway. Bookstore employee. Passionate about stuff. Expected. Not a big deal in grand scheme. Especially when his blog is -- or rather, was -- under the radar.

But as we said, this is not the only trump card which Mr Gordon holds in his hand. The other is that Mr Gordon is a Scot, and as such, he can (hopefully) count on the aid of other Scots. Being of part-Scots ancestry ourself, we don't understand how a God-fearing Scot in bloody Scotland can just be expected to not speak up about things. Especially if some English firm cashiers him for speaking up, because that'll just make him speak up on general principle.

So while we do think Mr Gordon did err, we can only wish him the best -- and are confident he'll soon get back on his feet. For as someone long ago once said, "the worst can be handled when it is known."

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at January 14, 2005 10:27 AM | TrackBack