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When life and MySpace collide
by Nathan Orme
May 24, 2008 | 769 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When I was seeking my first real job — Little Caesar’s Pizza as a junior in high school — I remember going for the interview wearing a maroon shirt and tie with a black vest. Maybe I was a little overdressed for the occasion, considering the woman who interviewed me was wearing a ratty green apron covered in flour, but to me it was important to look impressive for the momentous occasion in my young life.

Since that first attempt at employment, which was successful, by the way, I have gone on many other interviews. To that first interview I brought nothing more than myself and the requisite winning attitude, which was enough to win the job. Actually, I think a pulse and four functioning limbs were enough to get a job at Little Caesar’s. As my desired jobs have become more specialized, I have had to bring more evidence of my competence to interviews. In my particular profession, this typically entails writing and photography samples and an error-free resume because a typo on a resume in the writing profession instantly qualifies it for the circular file.

A relatively recent addition to many journalists’ resumes is a personal Web site where a potential employer might see additional writing samples or other proof of qualification for a reporting or editing job. In accordance with the general pay scale of this profession, for my first site I chose a place where I could post for free. On this site, I uploaded some stories I wrote and pictures I took for a weekly paper in Southern California, along with the text of my resume. I sent the link to this site to many potential employers in Reno when I was planning my move here. I’m not sure if this online effort played a role in my landing the job at the Tribune, but I learned this week that a person’s Web presence still gets some workplace scrutiny even after hearing, “You’re hired.”

I learned this regarding my personal MySpace page. For those of you who have just crawled out from under your rock and are unfamiliar with one of the largest social networking Web sites on the planet, maybe you also don’t know that the dinosaurs are extinct.

Those of you who are familiar with MySpace but are distrusting of all things computerized might think the site is nothing more than a haven for 14-year-old girls to pretend they are Playboy models or for 65-year-old men to find such girls. For normal people, MySpace has practical, usually legal, purposes like reconnecting with long-lost or distant friends, networking or finding a legitimate date.

For me, all three legitimate reasons motivated me to set up a page after my recent marriagectomy, and I’m happy to report that all three have been satisfied. On one’s MySpace page, you can post all kinds of pictures and music and colors, even to the point where the viewer can’t tell if they clicked on a person or an acid trip. There are also spaces for personal interests and for biographical information, such as where you went to school or ... ahem ... where you work.

It was this last tidbit of information that prompted my employer to pull me aside for a discussion this week.

When I selected content for my MySpace page, priorities were as follows (not necessarily in order of importance): promote my fledgling attempts to be a photographer, meet friends/girls and inject a little personality. While many people choose to use a great deal of profanity or other such R-rated material for their sites, mine is relatively clean. My photography efforts include a couple of shots of a model that show a little bit of skin, but the thing that got scrutiny was a favorite movie quote that included a tad, a bit, a smidge of profanity. It is one little, tiny part of my site, but apparently it stuck out like a neon sign.

My publisher said he personally had no problem with it and that he understood that it was a personal Web page. But being a grandfather himself, he knows how Internet savvy youngsters can be and he worried about a young reader — and, subsequently, their parents — seeing my page. Plus, he said, having the name of the Tribune on the same page with language we wouldn’t print in the paper probably isn’t a good idea and I couldn’t disagree with that.

How one of my co-workers came across my page is still a mystery to me, but since I know kids are much smarter than their grown-up counterparts at navigating toward online content they’re not supposed to see, I figured I had better change my page. At the suggestion of a fellow MySpace user, I simply restricted access to my page to certain people, which unfortunately defeats all three of the purposes for which I created the page. Perhaps one day I’ll simply delete the questionable language or remove the name of the paper, but for now I’ll simply say: If you don’t like it, don’t look at it.

A few months back I had a debate with one of the UNR students working for me about whether potential employers look for applicants’ Web pages to determine whether they’d make a good employee. This student insisted that it’s common practice for employers to use MySpace profiles when making a final determination; she said the employer could use the information to separate the drunks and sinners from the saints. That’s ridiculous, I insisted, arguing that when I had to hire employees the last thing I would consider doing is prying into their personal lives when determining their qualification to work for me. If anything, I’d use the Internet to find the drunks since they’d be more likely to survive this business.

Now it seems I am eating my words. Fortunately, I already have my job at the newspaper and am not trying to get in the door. If I were, I’d at least hope my colorful use of language would have been a boon to my application.

Maybe it’s my own fault. A while back I mentioned my MySpace page in this column, and by doing so I opened it up to inspection by not just my readers but by my co-workers, as well. I should have taken the same approach as with my divorce and just kept my mouth (or pen) shut about it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go put nursery rhymes and pictures of kittens on my Web page.

Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at norme@dailysparkstribune.com.
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