I get away with publishing pretty much anything I want. It’s something I’m proud of and really promote because I feel our field will grow stronger by having discussions and having things out in the open. That said, with this power comes some responsibility, so I’m going to share some of the thought processes that help keep me away from endangering my career so that others who follow might avoid the pitfalls of free speech.
1. Personal situation is important. One of the reasons I started Stenonymous was because government workers have some free speech protections. The large court reporting businesses had no power over me because my money is made completely independently from them. Freelancers have a hard time in this regard. There’s no protection and agencies have actively tried to cause trouble for them in the past. So the first thing to do before publishing is to take stock of your personal situation and imagine the pros and cons of speaking out. Sometimes speaking through someone else, as many people have done by corresponding with me and sharing information, is safer.
2. Details are important. Free speech protections aside, talking about your workplace could pose a problem. In general, don’t publish about the specific cases you work on, the court you work for, or the sensitive things you do in the course of your official duties. For example, I am free to absolutely trash California courts and policies if I want to. Doing the same in my backyard could be problematic. Keep in mind, it may limit career mobility to trash a lot of different places, so it may be undesirable to trash places in your publishing if you may uproot and move there in the future. This is why I don’t trash Kentucky. If the ocean ever swallows New York City I need Migliore & Associates to hire me.
3. Truth is important. The things you publish should be truthful. Truth is a defense to defamation and anyone is allowed to sue for any reason. Any of you could sue me right now in my hometown with a complaint that says “Chris Day is a bad man and owes me a million dollars.” You wouldn’t win, but the point stands, truth is a strong lawsuit deterrent.
4. Fair use is important. Take care if what you publish is copyrighted. All creative works are copyrighted upon creation. There is some wiggle room in the fair use doctrine where things created for parody, education, debate, commentary, etc, may allow the use of copyrighted material.
5. Have a backup to explain antisocial behavior. Most neoliberals back up their psychotic behavior by saying things like “it’s just business.” Usually as they’re firing single moms and stuff like that. My personal out is that I have adopted a performative media style called the “dirtbag left” style. This helps people reconcile my very mellow and polite in-person self with my more loud and visible media persona.
6. Punch up. People and organizations with wealth and power are far better targets for commentary. If they hit back, they’re the big bully preying on you for exercising your free speech rights. If they do nothing, they look weak to those that follow you, consume your content, or agree with your points.
7. Find a niche. The big money types are correct when they talk about business ecosystems and companies’ roles in those ecosystems. Free speech, power of the press, and general sharing and distribution of information are part of ecosystems too. Publishing is about finding your niche in the ecosystem. For example, there are people like Shaunise Day, Stephanie Hicks, Denee Vadell, and the Stenoholics. Like me, they’re all content creators. They make amazing stuff. But we don’t fill the same niches. I present analyses of and commentary on our field along with populating search engines with articles and images that counter the corporate narrative. Shaunise creates conventions that make me wish I wasn’t an introvert. Stephanie and Denee make videos that outclass anything I’ve ever made in my entire life. If I had the money, my new niche would probably be syndicating our stenographic media and pumping it out to the world (and getting our content creators paid.) The point is, whatever you do, be original or do things better, it’ll get your content more exposure and be more impactful.
8. Pay your taxes. Make sure to claim any income from your publishing hustle, even if it’s somehow expensed on a schedule C or something like that. Your rivals might just report you to the IRS if they see your content attracting real dollars.
9. Use personal attacks sparingly. Most of my publishing is about the conduct of corporations and not so much focused on the individuals that work for those businesses. If you’re going after somebody, you really want to have a firm grasp on why you’re doing it, because you may have to explain your conduct to a friend, follower, or employer.
10. Have fun and stay calm. Publishing comes with risks. People can sue, talk about you behind your back, or even openly trash you. It’s very advantageous to take on a nihilistic “nothing really matters” approach to the world in this regard. For example, I’ve put it out there again and again that given enough funding this blog will grow its media footprint and push the agenda of working reporters harder than anybody else has in the last 50 years. It ultimately doesn’t matter whether the funding comes through because I believe in what I’m doing and the information that I publish helps people. Money is a means to an end and not an objective. Similarly, it’s advantageous to have a mission behind what you do, because it will keep you going even when the funding takes a nosedive. Flip side of that, don’t become too obsessed with your mission, because if something comes along that stops you from achieving your objectives, you want to keep good mental health. If you’re not ready mentally for the potential consequences, it’s okay to walk away from a creative or content-generating project.
You’ve got my book of tricks. The First Amendment is our strongest card against an inert government and corporate corruption. Go build something better.