Firewall between work and personal writing.
August 16, 2012 10:03 AM   Subscribe

How can I build a wall between writing I do for my employer and writing I do on my own time?

I am a political scientist who works for a private company. Sometimes in my job I write magazine and online articles on topics relating to the company's work. They are published under my name, but as a representative of my employer.

However, I am also often asked to write articles about on topics in the same general topics as my employer, but as an expert in my own right and not as a representative of my employer. My employer has no policies about what I can write about on my own time.

For example, let's pretend my employer is an solar panel manufacturer. In my day job I write often articles about how a particular legislative will harm green energy prices. However, on my own time publications will ask me write about how a particular method of logging will damage New England watersheds. Similar fields but different topics.

Given that my personal writing and the writing I do for my employer are on similar topics, I want to make a firm and clear "firewall" between the writing I do at work, and the writing I do at home.

So far, I have:

1. Never work on my personal writing at work.
2. Never use my work email for personal writing.
3. Never use work computers etc... for personal writing.
3. When asked to submit a piece of writing, ask upfront if they are asking me as an independent expert or me as a representative of my employer.
4. Downgrade or leave out my employer in my bio used in articles written on my own time.

Have I missed anything else?
posted by Spurious to Work & Money (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
These all seem like sensible steps, but it isn't clear what your goals are for having a firewall between the writing you do for work, and the writing you do at home. Why is that important?
posted by Good Brain at 10:23 AM on August 16, 2012

Because when I write for my employer, they (rightfully) have veto power over what I can say.
posted by Spurious at 10:25 AM on August 16, 2012

I think you've got the right idea. Don't use any company resources to produce your personal writing. Conversely, don't use your own equipment for work.

Also, I don't know what your work schedule is like in your profession, but one thing I find useful for maintaining sane limits between home and work is to set firm boundaries around when and how I work on company stuff outside of the office. That way you can avoid murky gray zones between "I'm working on this for my company" versus "I'm working on this for personal reasons."
posted by deathpanels at 10:47 AM on August 16, 2012

I often write material that is funded by companies or industries, and at this point it is expected that anything generated and funded by the company would say something along the lines of "We thank Spurious, PhD, of Company X, for writing and ....This study was funded by a grant provided by Company Y" --to be printed on paper and on the web page if applicable. I would ask your employer to approve similar verbiage...I think readers should know when the study, data, or even writer is ultimately being funded by someone else because as you state, it has implications for what is and what is not published.

You may also want to consider asking if the people you write (non) funded articles for if they have any disclosure requirements (as in, there may be a blurb that you are a part time consultant for company X, but that what you wrote is balanced...). Just ask them, be honest with what you do, and be transparent. Sometimes this material is put on file, and other times it is printed along with what you write, but it is often dictated by the policies for the particular publication.
posted by Wolfster at 11:21 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you spoken to your employer about all this? Even if they have no ban on moonlighting and everyone else does it, it would be a good idea to have something signed by a supervisor (as high up the food chain as you're comfortable going) saying, "Spurious has the company's permission to engage in political writing under the following conditions..."
posted by Etrigan at 11:26 AM on August 16, 2012

@Etrigan I've thought about this, but honestly I don't like the idea about asking my employer for permission on what I do with my free time.
posted by Spurious at 12:01 PM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

From my perspective: I work for them from 9am to 5pm. And work for myself from 5pm to 9am. As long as I am not competing with them (I am definitely not), I just want to make the boundary clear so there are no questions later on about who owns the content and any compensation.
posted by Spurious at 12:04 PM on August 16, 2012

Are you getting these freelance things because of your relationship with your company? If you didn't work for the Comb-over Corporation, would you still get the assignments? Because if not, there's no firewall. You're still writing about your company or it's interests.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:32 PM on August 16, 2012

@Ideefixe Good point, but no I'm not getting these assignments because of my employer. I was writing about this topic before I started working for Comb-over Corporation.
posted by Spurious at 12:37 PM on August 16, 2012

I suggest you carefully check whatever contract you may have right now with your employer, and make sure there isn't any wording that would appear to assign your employer rights to anything you write.

I once worked for a creative/art studio. All of the artists had outside projects that they worked on after hours in their own homes. One day, the business manager came around and wanted all of the artists to sign, basically, a work for hire agreement. Upon closer inspection, the language of the agreement was such that the studio seemed to be claiming rights to anything the artists created. Period. There was no language separating work done for the studio and personal or freelance work. Despite their assurances that they would never, ever, pinky-swear claim any outside work, we made them re-write the contract, setting-up a solid wall between work and outside projects.

Just sayin'.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:36 PM on August 16, 2012

Have you considered using a different name for your personal stuff? For example, I use my first and last name for my journalism work and my first initial, middle name, last name for my film work.
posted by vibrotronica at 1:46 PM on August 16, 2012

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