CNN Producer Says He Was Fired for Blogging
Should journalists be permitted to maintain personal — and highly opinionated — blogs on their own time? Chez Pazienza, a senior producer for CNN’s “American Morning,” says the network fired him on Tuesday on the grounds that he violated its standards for journalists through his blog, Deus Ex Malcontent.
Mr. Pazienza announced that he had been fired through — what else — a blog post on Wednesday. “What was the reason for my abrupt and untimely dismissal?” he wrote. “You’re reading it. More to come soon.”
In a phone interview this morning, Mr. Pazienza, 38, said he joined CNN as a senior producer in January 2004 and has consistently received positive performance evaluations of his work. He spent his first year at CNN at the network’s headquarters in Atlanta, then moved to New York to work on “CNN Daybreak,” which has since been canceled, then “American Morning,” which is shown Monday through Friday, from 6 to 9 a.m.
Mr. Pazienza said he started his blog in May 2006 as a way to keep his mind occupied while he was on a medical leave of several months after an operation to remove a brain tumor. He got noticed by blogs like Drew Curtis’s FARK, a popular news-aggregation site, and Pajiba, a left-wing blog of movie and book reviews.
“Slowly but surely people started reading me a little bit, and it was nice,” he said. “I was still relatively small but for a personal blog. I was doing very well. I had a few thousand hits a day.”
Then, a few months ago, Mr. Pazienza was invited to start blogging on The Huffington Post, the group blog founded by Arianna Huffington.
Mr. Pazienza said he has never identified himself in his writing as a CNN producer or as a representative of CNN and has never written about what goes on at work. “I will write about the media in general and, at times, the very sorry state of it, including the TV news media,” he said. “I think I have the right to.”
Mr. Pazienza described Deus Ex Malcontent as a personal journal, where he has mused about everything from his recovery from surgery to his thoughts on the mass media and popular culture. He has linked to music videos from bands he likes and written about past relationships.
“It’s basically me,” he said. “It’s whatever happens to strike my fancy that day. I don’t have any advertisers, so I’m not exactly beholden to anyone. I don’t wake up worrying about how many people are reading me.”
Deus Ex Malcontent makes no effort to hide its author’s strong views. “I wake up every morning baffled as to why America hasn’t thrown George Bush and Dick Cheney in prison, Hollywood hasn’t stopped trying to convince me that Sarah Jessica Parker is attractive, gullible soccer moms haven’t realized that they share absolutely no kinship with Oprah, and Fox canceled ‘Firefly,’” Mr. Pazienza wrote on the biographical section of his blog.
Barbara Levin, a spokeswoman for CNN, said she could not discuss specifics because the network does not comment on personnel matters, but she said in a statement, “CNN has a policy that says employees must first get permission to write for a non-CNN outlet.”
Mr. Pazienza acknowledges that he did not ask permission from CNN to blog, either on his own Web site or on The Huffington Post. He contends that the policy had not been made clear to employees and was overly vague. “It’s purposely set up so they can be subjective,” he said. “Does that mean I can’t post on a MySpace blog that my friends read? Does that mean I can’t post something online to my wife?” He added that he believed he had been dismissed because of his views.
When he was fired on Tuesday, Mr. Pazienza said, only his personal blog was mentioned, not his work for The Huffington Post. Mr. Pazienza also said his supervisors had told him that they did not know of other CNN employers who blogged, an assertion Mr. Pazienza said he knows to be untrue. Mr. Pazienza lives on the Upper East Side with his wife; the couple are expecting a baby in August. He said he is not going to fight to get his job back, but when asked whether he planned to hire a lawyer, he said he had not yet decided on any plans.
(For those who wonder, The New York Times’s policy on ethics in journalism does have a section on blogs. While it states that blogs “present imaginative opportunities for personal expression and exciting new journalism,” it adds that blogs “also require cautions, magnified by the Web’s unlimited reach.” It elaborates that personal blog content should be “purely that: personal,” and that staff members should avoid blogging about topics they cover as journalists and avoid taking stands on divisive public issues, among other guidelines.)