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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sympathy for the Diva?

Posted By on Tue, Aug 25, 2009 at 7:17 PM

Like everyone else on the Internet, I guess, I feel obliged to offer my thoughts on the great PittGirl outing story. But there's been so much said about this already that I'll try to keep it short. (Short for me, anyway.)

1) I have a lot of respect for Virginia Montanez’s decision to out herself. She risked her job in order to speak her mind openly -- despite a shitty economy. That takes courage, of a kind reporters especially should admire.

I also admire the fact that Montanez has been admirably stoic about losing her job. As she has candidly disclosed, while blogging as "PittGirl," she slagged institutions that her former employer, the Negro Educational Emergency Drive, relied on for support. She's long acknowledged that if her identity came out, she'd probably lose her job. She knew the risks of outing herself, did it anyway, and is taking her lumps with grace and good humor.

In fact, some of Montanez's champions could stand to learn a lesson here, because ...

2) While she was brave for risking her job, that doesn't necessarily make NEED a villain for canning her. 

Some bloggers disagree, apparently. Justin Kownicki says that as a result of PittGirl's termination, "my respect for society in general continues to plummet ever downward." The WWVB blog opined that "the person who fired [Montanez] should also be looking for work." Meanwhile, Bram of the Pittsburgh Comet insists that "firing someone for blogging just isn't right. I don't care that it's acceptable for some reason. Is it acceptable to fire someone for writing a letter to the editor?"

Infinonymous, meanwhile, thunders that

Unless NEED provides an adequate explanation, I wouldn't object to seeing it wither and die.

NEED, as you may have heard, helps provide money to disadvantaged kids who want to go to college. But to hell with that! An anonymous blogger demands ACCOUNTABILITY. 

But let's bear in mind that Montanez wasn't just some back-office drone. She was NEED's head of marketing. And by coming forward, she didn't just out herself -- she outed her employer, too.

That put the agency in a bad spot, something local bloggers of all people should understand. I mean, I've seen plenty of internet speculation that Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, a frequent PittGirl target, targets his critics for political reprisal. I'm not saying that happens, or that it would have happened to NEED. But unless you think it's totally out of the realm of possibility, NEED deserves a bit of sympathy. Had the nonprofit stood up for Montanez's right to speak her mind, it might have hampered its ability to help other minds get a college education.

And Bram's concerns about free speech notwithstanding, Montanez apparently was able to write a letter to the editor -- about a hotly contested presidential election, no less -- without losing her job. Maybe NEED drew the line at having its marketing head publicly insult big supporters like UPMC? If so, would it be so terrible for NEED to prioritize the kids it was chartered to help? I'm just asking. 

Also, let's note that NEED has not on commented Montanez's departure. And despite the internet's call for answers, that's typical behavior by an employer. (Which just shows how unusual this situation was for NEED: Ordinarily, personnel decisions are the sort of thing you pay your marketing person NOT to talk about.) So we should acknowledge that there's another side to this story, one we aren't likely to get. 

3) Finally, tomorrow's issue of City Paper features a story about a couple of guys who were fired from their jobs, perhaps becuase they'd been participating in a unionization drive. Somehow, I doubt they're going to become a cause celebre the way Montanez has.

Seems unfair, doesn't it? If you write a humorous blog mocking pigeons and Ben Roethlisberger, your free-speech martyrdom gets a write-up on CNN.com. If you get canned after merely trying to get better wages and benefits for yourself and your coworkers, though, you have to make do with poor old City Paper

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