Old-Economy Control-Freak Bullshit

Some big news organizations are forbidding journalists from blogging on their own time. Here’s a quote from a relevant article (via Instapundit):

His boss, Courant editor Brian Toolan, explained the shuttering [of reporter Denis Horgan’s blog] to E&P Online thusly: “Denis Horgan’s entire professional profile is a result of his attachment to the Hartford Courant, yet he has unilaterally created for himself a parallel journalistic universe where he’ll do commentary on the institutions that the paper has to cover without any editing oversight by the Courant.” [. . .]

Yeah, the editor doesn’t get it. But more than that, I don’t think he cares. His attitude, ironically, reminds me of hiring practices in the technology industry. It’s the attitude of second-rate managers who believe that you get people to be productive by putting them in a position where they have no alternative but to do what you want. From this point of view, employees are interchangeable and their value derives mainly from their association with their employer, and if the employer doesn’t lock them in with restrictive work and noncompete agreements they’ll escape and become competitors.

Perhaps this view was valid on the factory assembly-line, but it’s counterproductive now. Technology – blogging software is a good example – allows able people to increase their productivity, sometimes dramatically. Good managers know this and treat employees as valuable resources, individuals who have alternatives. Reporters who blog are probably on the ball for the most part. The way to get the most out of such people, who do innovative work for personal satisfaction on their own time, is not to tell them that they owe everything to the company and must henceforth stop doing things that aren’t in their job descriptions. That is the way of the incompetent pointy-haired Dilbert boss. It tells the best workers that the company feels threatened by their creativity. It is a statement of contempt for their enterprise and an invitation to look for a better job.

What the Hartford Courant editor should do is figure out a way to exploit his reporter’s blog for general benefit. It wouldn’t be hard. All they have to do is link the blog to the Courant’s home page and promote it a bit. They could publish a roster of employee blogs. They could link to outside blogs. They could encourage blogging reporters to explore new themes as a way of attracting readers – attracting them both to the blogs and to the otherwise unremarkable home page of a regional daily that they might otherwise never look at. Regular Courant readers would have something new and interesting to read. The blogging reporters would produce more product for the same pay. It would be fun. Maybe on margin some good reporters would continue to work at the Courant who might otherwise move on.

But it probably won’t happen, because managements at places like the Hartford Courant have too much invested in the current way of doing things. Like the pointy-haired bosses at badly run technology companies, they obstruct progress because progress means giving creative people the freedom to be creative. The managers, being second-rate, won’t do that, because it means giving up some control, and control is all they’ve got. In the long run they’ll lose their best employees, who will go to work for more foresighted managements or start their own competing shops with fresh business models. You can’t fool all of the people all of the time, and you can’t keep the best employees indefinitely locked into work arrangements they don’t like. In a free and dynamic society, the best way to keep people is to align their incentives with those of their employers. Encouraging reporters to blog is a very inexpensive way to do that.