Llewellyn Kriel
Llewellyn Kriel

The ‘gross misconduct’ of blogging

It is one of the most bizarre, frustrating and terrifying experiences to have to defend yourself for doing precisely what you have been trained and employed to do.

At my rather outlandish and constitutionally questionable disciplinary hearing last week, I found I often had to pinch myself so weird it all was. My fellow employee representing had to do the same.

I am charged with “gross misconduct” for being a journalist. For blogging in this forum. And more specifically the blog “Working on that pig’s ear, baby“.

My most heinous crime was exposing the shortcomings at “the company” and thereby presumably bringing it into “disrepute” — a frighteningly subjective term that resonates of “heretic” or “witch” or “enemy of the state”.

Oh, and there’s an add-on offence of having “divulged internal confidential company information to the public”. The latter was so risible it brought forth gales of derisive laughter when I told my colleagues. Now, any journalist treasures a scoop, but the company secrets I had so shamefully divulged had previously been extensively debated on radio and in august (and satirical) columns long before I “blew the whistle” on them.

But, dear friends, I am not making any of this up. And I take it very, very seriously. My livelihood, future, good name and reputation are at stake.

This is the self-same company (that makes it sound like some ultra-covert government agency protecting us all from the scum of the universe) that claims not only to uphold the Constitution and the freedoms it enshrines for everyone, but also has gone to court to protect the very freedoms I was exercising. This distinction seems to have been brutally trampled on in that most ignoble of corporate sports — vindictive ego-mania — and personal political agendas papered over behind the ugly walls of company dogma.

I’m sure many of you have experienced or imagined how otherworldly it feels to defend the practice of the very freedoms you were employed to uphold. It is akin to a chef being charged with cooking, or a preacher being criminalised for believing in God, or a teacher for teaching. It is incomprehensible. And, quite frankly, unconscionable.

Let this offence against the Constitution be a sobering demonstration to us all that the lessons of Animal Farm and countless others are nothing but so much word-salad to be observed by employers when it suits them and trampled upon as capricious whim may sway them.

And the tragedy is I will probably be convicted of these charges — just as victims of the Inquisition were convicted by the lunacy of those times or, more recently, as Steven Bantu Biko was charged, convicted and executed for the justice and freedoms in which he believed.

This tribunal is a gross offence against our democracy and the “inalienable and self-evident truths” upon which it is founded. The actions of my employer deserve the opprobrium they have evoked from the vast bulk of right-thinking and professional journalists (as opposed to bitter and warped hitmen from a bygone time), the Freedom of Expression Institute and the South African National Editors’ Forum within South Africa and Reporters sans Frontières outside this country.

On Monday the chairman of the disciplinary hearing will pronounce his findings and doubtless sentence will be passed upon me.

Oh, and by the way, my accuser, a senior editor who really should know better, is of the view that subeditors are not journalists at all and should confine themselves to “ensuring grammar is right”. He is the self-same “journalist” who approved for publication a page lead report containing no fewer than 18 major factual, journalistic and linguistic blunders. It almost made the editor-in-chief apoplectic!

I interpret his insult as falling within the same bigoted category as “housewives don’t work” and “it’s the maid’s job to dust under the bed”. There are certain tasks that are just beneath the dignity of senior editors; who incidentally have not the foggiest idea what a blog even is — let alone one of the stature of Thought Leader.

These troglodytes walk among us. And put our beautiful craft in deep, deep trouble.

  • marian

    May the force be with you. You are right in expressing your indignation which, I am sure, has been a long time in coming.You’ll take small comfort, I am sure, from accepting that the company for which you work – albeit under different names – has always been an arselicker to power. Previously the fat arse was the all-powerful white nationalist. Now the colur has changed. Most of us worked for and dreamed of something so much better than just a change of colour.
    The sad thing about the ‘journalists’ in charge of producing news today is that they’ve forgotten the basics of the job – to communicate lucidly, without ambiguity or bias, the happenings of the community and the world around us so we can take informed decisions about whether and how we relate to that world.
    So often the words in newspapers (I’ve long given up on all SABC radio and TV news programmes)are wooly and pretentious attempts at creative writing. They are short on facts. Independent ferreting out of information is a Euro-centric quirk. It’s so much less trouble to quote/misquote a PR handout or spokesperson of those in power. Or better still, make it up altogether.
    Perhaps it’s time for all journalists of ability and integrity to walk away from the mainstream. Your employers don’t understand or value what you do, so why keep casting pearls before swine, even earless ones. If only you didn’t have to earn a living.
    Every good reporter knows s/he needs a good sub-editor to save him/her/the newspaper from embarrasment at being wrong/sloppy.
    I wish you well. Walk away. Let mainstream newspapers continue their rot. You can’t stop them. Go prosper where your abilities are recognised and valued – but make sure you bloody their nose before you leave.

  • Paul

    I hope it works out for you.

    Your injured innocence is a little surprising though. Surely you didn’t expect that any company would tolerate the public disclosure of internal information, or the damage to their public standing, that you are inflicting on them?

  • http://salma-gundi.blogspot.com/ Juno

    Your post is interesting, but I’m confused. Are you a sub or a journalist, and which newspaper do you work for?

  • http://www.thesouthafricaninsult.iblog.co.za Sarah Britten

    If this was a case of a government employee leaking info and being hauled before a disciplinary hearing, we’d be up in arms. Sauce and geese comes to mind.

  • Llewellyn

    Thanks for reading & taking the time to comment folks. This is what m’thinks TL is all about. As i said at my inquisition, the collective, reasoned, analysed and debated inputs of many are always to be preferred over the whispered, suspect, egotistical secrets behind closed doors. They are undemocratic, open to suspicion and allow for plausible deniability.

    I think you’re quite correct, Paul. If i could go to Character Traits ‘R’ Us and exchange two character LK flaws I’d swop Trust and Naivete for Scepticism and Viciousness on the spot. I am serious.

    Trusting people – with half a dozen radiant exceptions – has brought me nought by grief. And in the corporate world, no matter what pretty paper pledges they have stuck in golden frames, the managers who work for them rank, as my Gunnery Instructor in the Navy used to say:”Tien grade laer as kreefkak op die seebodem!!”

    Sarah, SA has been 4,3 & 6,1-million HIV+ people. that makes about 1 in every 8 or 9. Hypocrisy, duplicity, dishonesty and the like i reckon rate about 1 in 2. It’s an ugly place out there!

    i’ll keep you posted on the war for integrity!! HooHa!

  • marian

    Hi Juno

    A sub is a journalist. Journalist is the collective noun for all those employed in the process of gathering and presenting news in all its formats. Reporters, sub editors, news editors, photographers, picture editors, editors are just some of the job titles under the term journalist.

  • http://www.mydigitallife.co.za/hlakile Marinus Opperman

    Llewellyn, the golden rule applies here and that is he / she that has the gold, makes the rules. That means that you either shunt or be shunted. In the case of journalists, this is most frustrating as clear logic and solid reasoning is your bread and butter, but not necessarily the philosophy used in any company.

    A good book to read is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. One of the agreemenst is not to take anything personally. The explanation will put this extraordinary behaviour in context.

    Good luck and keep believing that the truth will set you free!

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  • http://www.roadsafety.wordpress.com Johan

    Best wishes Llewellyn on the hearing! I remember long ago you assisted in creating awareness of road safety – remember Braveheart.. ” They can not take away my Freedom!!

  • http://Thoughtleader Terry H


    LK has it all wrong! Surely Subs are the troglodytes within the editorial heirarchy (and most proud therof?) .

    Shitshining in the small wee hours can lead to dark Darth Vader thoughts – fulminating anger issues are a natural result. Are subs not the introverts and burnout victims of journalism – I detect a severe lack of sunlight, seretonin and a straightjacket. Subs deserve special respect for their lonely vigils, while the cub reporters get all the action.

    I strongly advise a plea of temporary insanity before the grand inquisition of the suits – confirmed by your ability to grovel eloquently once that unshined matt blog shit hit the fan.

    A script for happy pills – Prozac should do – will render those Bloggy loud angry outbursts into nuanced wimpers. If all else fails – always use wit to hide hubris. You have a irony deficiency almost as bad as your rants.

    May the force be with you

  • Gary

    Good luck. I found myself in a similar situation while working for a publication belonging to a well-known Irish purveyor of baked beans.

    I wrote a piece in a daily online publication airing my opinion. I was threatened with disciplinary action. The matter was quietly dropped, but the one word that springs to mind to describe a situation like that is “risible”

  • Thabo

    I hear your “concerns” about the deterioration of the quality of work in journalism and as news consumer I’m also concerned but what the hell have you done to help the situation? As a white South African who obviously benefitted in the Apartheid regime (as you mention being educated?), why aren’t you one of the people on the forefront to help these kids who want to make it in journalism become better at that? Instead, you’ve rested on your laurels all these years (probably hoping this sort of thing would happen while you’re still alive so that you could say “I said so”), well the way you went about it landed you in hot water and I really believe that your opinion is harmful to your employer. If your concerns were real, why didn’t you go to management to discuss the state of affairs at Avusa, instead you go online to vent – just like a loser! – and now you come here looking for pity, like someone’s out to get you, please! I’m sure you felt so vindicated when you sat down (hopefully not on the company PC and on company time!) to write the piece that would “expose the goings-on in a once reputable media company which has been a victim of change (which is adamant by the way because of the history of our country)”, so now take it like a man, you’ve made your noise and there are consequences …after all they say one reaps what they sow? Lesson to you and all those angry passive aggressive white folk out there – free speech is a bitch!

  • http://salma-gundi.blogspot.com/ Juno

    Gee, thanks Marian for clearing that up for me! Now could you tell me what ‘journalist’ means? Also, I’m not clear on the meaning of ‘the’, ‘a’, ‘and’ and ‘noun’.

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  • Oivusa

    Llewellyn, best of luck. I have worked in various positions across titles owned by “the company” and finally took my leave of all the nonsense that the alleged managers repeatedly conjured.

    It is incredibly sad to see what is happening to our media due to flagrant mismanagement by unqualified, uncaring people in charge.

    I am now ‘living’ the life of a freelancer, for what its worth in SA, and while money is scarce, my sanity prevails – which is far more important than putting up with their bullsh*t.

    Subs vs journos: yes, it is all one and the same, although the ‘shrubs’ tend be the ones that can actually write.

    Alute continua!

  • Steve

    So what has changed in the corporate world in the NSA – same bottles different labels .It is high time that the working people and small business community unite against the high flying but grossly incompetent , immoral ,money obsessed , arrogant and egoistical corporate upper management class in this country .

  • Barbara Scholten

    Oh my. Hang in there. Someone who uses the English language the way you do should be promoted, not subjected to this kind of insanity…

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