Sam Zell Ditches Internet Filters In The Newsroom

from the good-for-him dept

We were rather surprised last year to find out that the LA Times and other Tribune-owned newspapers had started employing web filters for journalists working at the newspaper. The filters were supposed to prevent journalists from visiting “inappropriate” sites, though failed to explain what a reporters was to do if he or she was actually reporting on inappropriate sites — which should make you realize that there really are no inappropriate sites for a journalist. It looks like new Tribune owner Sam Zell is equally mystified by the policy and wasted little time getting rid of it with the following message:

“I do not see how a member of the Fourth Estate, dedicated to protecting the First Amendment, can censor what its own employees and partners can see. I have instructed that all content filters be removed. You are now exposed to the dangers of You Tube and Facebook. Please use your best judgment.”

Somehow I get the feeling that Zell won’t be joining the AFP in banning the use of Facebook and Wikipedia as sources.

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Companies: tribune

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Comments on “Sam Zell Ditches Internet Filters In The Newsroom”

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Beefcake says:

Re: Sourcing

I agree, but believe the question should be “What idiot would think productivity at ANY BUSINESS would get better…”. If you have a leaden employee not pulling their weight, fire them. Restricting the Internet just means they’ll spend more time wandering the halls socializing and distracting others trying to actually work. If they are producing, who cares what Internet sites they’re visiting? And of course the filters mean that your legit, producing employees are more poorly informed about this-that-and-the-other, so the net effect on productivity is zero but you’ve dumbed-down your workforce.

Mr. Fetter says:

Re: Sourcing

No information was released on what sites were being blocked and whether the “censorship” was at just one or two newspapers or company-wide.

We can’t even assume that Mr. Zell knew what, if anything, was being censored when the memo was written.

Social networks allow for reporters to develop more contacts quicker. Whether they are good sources has to be corroborated through diligent research and the search for the truth.

But what percentage of Tribune’s tens of thousands of employees and contractors are reporters?

Explain to me why the mailroom clerk and the minimum wage guard at the front desk need access to Facebook and Youtube?

Tack Furlo (user link) says:

For the 15th cotton pickin' time...

Ok, I don’t know how many times I have to say this, but I suppose it won’t physically harm me too much to say it again: Wikipedia is an excellent source when used in tandem with other sources. The Encyclopedia Britannica isn’t perfect and neither is Wikipedia, but if I read something both on Wikipedia and in the Encyclopedia Britannica, and I must cite two sources for that fact, English teacher and good grades be damned, you can bet I will cite Wikipedia as my second source. I agree, Wikipedia is not to be used in any real form or fashion as a primary source, but when doing any research for any paper, I go there first, and then once I learn what I need to know, my tactic is to simply find another source – almost always online – that states the same thing. Since wikipedia requires their users to cite sources, this is usually as simple as reading the bottom of the wikipedia article. So, I have to ask, if I read something on wikipedia, and it links to the Encyclopedia Britannica as its source, then what is the damn difference to the English teacher between me citing wikipedia and me citing the Encyclopedia Britannica? If the information is equally correct regardless of the source used, I see no reason not to cite whichever source I damn well feel like.

Sorry for the excessive cursing, but I simply get incensed when teachers have a single bad experience with any technology and then say “well it’s all bad, so you can’t use it.” I have to wonder if, for example, I used an old 17th century dictionary in my kindergarden vocabulary class if my teacher saw the strange definitions for that and then banned my source (the Oxford English dictionary, which I actually did use a 17th century version of in 4th grade to prove this very point) if that would also make sense to anyone. No source should be banned, but all sources should be confirmed. Using wikipedia – or even webster’s – as one’s sole source is just stupid. No publication is ever perfect. “w00t” is the word of the year, yet noone is seriously going to use “w00t” in a formal class paper and then tell their teacher “but it IS in the dictionary!” Sure, if you only used Webster’s as your sole source, and you have a copy of the 2008 edition of Webster’s, you’ll find that it is now actually considered a valid word, albeit slang, but the use of w00t is no more acceptable than the use of ain’t in any formal writing. Does this mean english teachers should ban the use of Webster’s because it has a very small set of words they don’t agree with, or does this just mean a student should be required to also look up the word in other dictionaries as well? I think we all agree they should simply confirm their primary source, instead of saying that source is off limits.

As for web filtering, I happen to be the primary admin at a small, regional ISP (about 400 customers now, and at 40% capacity) and know a little about this. I, for one, don’t believe in using filters, but I do have two alternatives that I believe accomplish the same basic idea (preventing slacking of employees) without disabling them should they need (or even be mandated by their job) to look for topics that may be taboo. One is logging, and any email or web browsing should be logged for any company. Now, does that mean someone should be constantly reading that log? Most likely no, especially in the case of a newspaper (where a subject may be very sensitive and subject to leak – we IT guys can usually be bought pretty cheap, sadly, especially those of us who actually know what we’re doing instead of spending 4 years in a college and still having to crack open a manual every 10 minutes), but there are some cases where this might be perfectly acceptable. If, for example, your business is a drug rehab clinic, then obviously you may be giving your clients access to the internet and email specifically to log it and read it, gaining access to information they may not want to tell you. This also means that if everyone at the office starts complaining their internet connection is slow, you can check these logs and track down the culprit, but as long as users respect each others connection and don’t hog all the space in the tubes, they will be left alone in kind. The second technology that composes the other half of this is, strangely enough, bandwidth prioritization. That is to say that you let all data and traffic go through, but if you have reporters googling for story ideas, that takes precedence over the song or podcast or streaming radio they have in the background. This allows you to give your employees a certain level of freedom, without that one guy in the corner who is downloading the entire last season of Lost to keep anyone else from getting an email out. This is important because if that one guy is your best employee (maybe he gets twice the work of anyone else done and doesn’t watch the episodes until he gets home) then blocking that traffic isn’t good for you. Allowing him that freedom (and yet not allowing that freedom to encroach or hinder your other employee’s freedom) keeps him happy, and happy employees are more productive, which is what it all boils down to. Maybe a little techno streaming from is just what they need to move that case of writer’s block out of the way, and if they can stream that and still communicate, then why not allow them to do so?

Anyhow…just a thought. There is a technological solution to keep employees from goofing off, but it’s not to make it imposable for them to goof off. It’s to make it much easier for them to get real work done than it is for them to goof off. Filters piss employees off. Bandwidth limits don’t because they can’t tell they’re there. The solution isn’t to force employees to follow certain specific company policies. The solution is to make employees WANT to follow those policies, and the only way to do that is to make the employees see how those policies are actually fair to them. Logging and bandwidth limiting allow you to do that, accomplishing the same job as filtering, without the negative side effects.

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