Why Did You Do That?

Readers often ask why the FedSmith site does (or does not) publish some news items, reader comments or why we filter some terms from the daily newsletter. Here is an explanation.

Running an active website is an educational experience.

FedSmith.com has grown beyond anything we had originally anticipated when we started up the site several years ago. As many readers know, the site is run by a small staff of volunteers with a goal of providing a wide variety of information to the federal community. One of our primary goals in starting the site was to fill a gap in information not often provided to the federal workforce.

Having worked in Uncle Sam’s “civilian army” for a number of years (and in the military’s Army for about two years) and then as a government contractor, it always seemed apparent that the news outlets for federal employees were filtered in ways unique to this community.

FedSmith is not a government contractor. The only service we provide is the website and the site is free. There are ads on the site which readers are free to peruse if they choose. The ads bring in enough revenue to provide the array of computer equipment necessary to host a site that will garner as many as 60 million “hits” this year and to keep our in-house computer system up-to-date so that we can continue to keep the site updated as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Our goal is to provide news that we think will interest readers in the federal community. Whether the topic is the Thrift Savings Plan, retirement, health benefits or controversy concerning an agency or an individual, we strive to provide the information so that readers can access a wide variety of news.

A number of questions, accusations or comments come in through our site. With a small staff, and a fervent desire to remain small and flexible, we do not have the ability to respond to requests for help resolving complex issues for readers. But here are answers to some of the most common issues that readers raise with us.

Tell It Like It Is!

Several readers ask why we don’t “tell it like it is” in our headlines and summaries. This comment usually follows a news item about a person who has been charged or convicted as a result of a crime involving child molestation, downloading pornography on to a government computer or other similar incidents.

The reason is simple. The “spam bots” used by government agencies filter out and reject mail that someone has decided contains objectionable words. If we use any variation of the word “sex” or “pornography” in a headline or a summary, we will literally get innundated with rejected email. The rejected email is shortly followed by queries from readers asking why we did not send out a newsletter that day. To work with this restriction, we will use a phrase such as “inappropriate material” that will usually get through the censors.

We also have to try to avoid using words such as “investor” when writing about the TSP. Some government servers have been programmed to reject any use of this word. “Drug testing” or any use of the word “drug” falls into a similar category.

In effect, we are not trying to sugar coat the news you receive but we do want your daily newsletter to get through to you if possible.

Bias in Comment Approval

Another comment is that we filter reader comments to be compatible with our personal views of an issue. I presume this comment is generally from a reader whose comment was not published.

We do read and approve (and occasionally disapprove) comments. There are days when hundreds of comments are submitted and the decision is made quickly to post a comment or not. In an ideal world, federal colleagues would treat each other with respect; read and react to differing views; and respond in a professional way. But, the anonymous nature of the internet can quickly result in negative, insulting or slanderous comments.

Anyone who takes the time to read comments will usually come to a quick conclusion that there is little uniformity to the views that are published. We undoubtedly approve some comments we should not have approved but we try to quickly cut off a thread that is certain to get nasty. Accusations against a specific person may be completely factual and true (or perhaps not) but we routinely disapprove those comments as well. And, regardless of the pithy nature of a person’s submission, a comment referring to another reader with adjectives such as “moron,” “imbecile,” “ignorant,” “storm trooper,” “racist,” “Nazi,” etc. are routinely discarded. We do, however, give much more leeway to calling someone a “Republican” or “Democrat.”

Bias in News Articles

Some readers insist we should not run articles giving only one point of view, presumably on the theory that the site should have a “fairness doctrine” that gives equal weight to all viewpoints.

We do not do that. If there is news that may be critical of an agency, an individual, or some other organization, we are likely to publish that article or point of view. We frequently publish editorials that are critical of a policy, program, or take issue with some topic that involves federal employees. Our sole criterion is whether we think an item will be of interest to readers.

There are also days when several news items may come out that are generally critical of or favorable to a political party or a point of view. Some readers are offended that there is not more balance in the coverage for that day. The reality is that when there is news we think readers will want to read, we will bring it to your attention. We don’t count the number of articles on a given day that may praise or criticize Republicans, Democrats, managers, unions, federal employees, etc.

Some readers also ask why a site that is read by the federal community will publish articles that we know will be disliked by many readers. I confess, we do run articles that fall into this category. Our goal is not to provide free publicity for government recruiters. Federal employees should be aware of criticism, facts or opinions about the federal workforce. The federal workforce serves all Americans, even though the term “civil servant” is no longer routinely used, and knowing what the public thinks about issues that affect the federal community should not be hidden or rejected just because some people will not like it.

In short, we work hard to provide a variety of news that will be of interest. We do not mind controversy and frequently publish articles we think will generate thoughtful comments and, perhaps, raise questions among some of our readers.

We appreciate hearing from our readers and thank all of you for forwarding our daily newsletter or site information to your colleagues. Your actions have fueled the rapid growth of the site and we appreciate your efforts to let others know about the FedSmith news outlet. We do read your suggestions and comments and use them to continue to provide services that are of interest to the federal community.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47