Dealing with a dooce
This week marks one year since I was "dooced." That's blogworld parlance for being outed and fired from one's job for something written on a blog. A blogger named Heather B. Armstrong coined the term and she serves as a sort of patron saint of anonymous bloggers.
When I began blogging as the Phantom Prof in the fall of 2004, there were an estimated 4,000 personal blogs (or 40,000 or 400,000... I'm getting your emails on conflicting research numbers here) on the internet. Today there are 40 million. Blogs have changed journalism, created stars and spawned spin-offs all over media.
What's good about that: More people writing about life in our times.
What's bad about it: Everybody thinks they're Samuel Pepys; like everything else, 90 percent of blogs are crap.
Newspapers came late to the trend -- as they do to every trend -- and started making their reporters, editors and columnists write blogs. That misses the point, doesn't it? The best blogs have nothing to do with mainstream media. Instead, they reflect the personality, quirkier the better, of their writers (instead of the tightly controlled institutional personality of an employer) and give readers a peek into someone else's world. One of my current faves, Fresh Pepper, writes terse, witty entries daily, chronicling conversations at work, things not to say on dates and stuff he's cooking while living in his parents' basement. Trivial perhaps. But fascinating.
I started blogging in the journal style, writing about how it feels to be one of the small, underpaid army of adjunct profs in a private university where money and social status (of students, not profs) rule. College has become a service industry, if you hadn't noticed, with teachers like me expected to give special treatment to the paying customers.
At the lowest-rung level of academia, I felt like a phantom, floating from classroom to classroom, getting little recognition from my tenured colleagues other than the occasional reminder that I was not one of them and never would be. And when there were problems with whiny students demanding that grades be raised or unfinished assignments overlooked, I got no support. Like cops, there's never a tenured prof around when you need one.
Blogging let me vent. And, I thought, if I wrote the stories down, maybe in a year or two I’d have a book.
Then came the dooce. How students found my blog and when, I’ll never know. While I was teaching, not one person on campus ever asked me if I was a blogger or if I was the mysterious Phantom Prof.
When I received a letter from the head of my department telling me my contract for another year of classes was not being renewed, it was a sock in the solar plexus. I never expected it. It actually took me a few days to make the connection between blog and firing. They couldn’t be that petty, I thought. These are media people. These are my friends.
Funny, they teach courses in PR and they couldn’t even manage their own PR when the media began writing the story of the lowly adjunct fired for writing funny (but true!) stories about the spoiled rich kids, their awful parents and the decline of college education. These days stories of bloggers being fired seem like yesterday's news. From flight attendants to lawyers to dental assistants, the doocing of bloggers has created a whole new chapter for the employee handbook: Blogging, policies regarding.
Did I suffer from the doocing? Can’t say I have. The university tried to shame me, but failed. They couldn’t keep me from getting another teaching job (part-time but wonderful). And they only exposed their own hypocrisy in trying to punish me. I’ll never forget the words the esteemed department chair said to one of the reporters doing yet another story on the Phantom Prof: “Words can hurt.” Yep, a Ph.D. plays the sticks-and-stones card.
So as I continue to speak to corporate groups about what to expect from the Me First Generation of college students, as I juggle more writing assignments than I’ve ever had, as I work feverishly to finish my book, The Phantom Professor: Telling Tales Out of School, I don’t regret one word I’ve written here.
My community of readers has grown beyond my craziest expectations. And your encouragement is the honey on the biscuit. When I get mail from Lebanon, Israel, Ireland, New Zealand, Canada – golly, y’all. I don’t know how you found me, but I’m glad you did.
After the test of getting dooced, it’s come up aces.