Tuesday December 13, 2005

Miami Performing Arts Center says NO

Miami Performing Arts Center construction

A lot of you have heard bits and pieces of this story, and I finally decided to type it all out, for the record. It’s the story of how this very blog cost me a job at the Miami Performing Arts Center.

At the beginning of September, I was alerted to an opening at the Miami Performing Arts Center for a Graphic Design Coordinator. The job description seemed to match up with my qualifications pretty well, and it sounded like a dream job – I’m obviously interested in the performing arts, and this is to be the biggest, shiniest spot in a town I care very much about. Still, I figured they must be getting in thousands of applications for a job like this (graphic designers are a dime a dozen), and I figured my chances were slim, so I sent in my resume and pretty much forgot about it.

A few weeks went by, and I got a phone call: they were interested enough to want to meet with me. My first interview, in early October, was with Gail Eaton, Marketing Director, and it seemed to go pretty well: I have print as well as web design experience, a simple, clean style, and experience working for a non-profit in the performing arts, which seemed to be the exact combination they were looking for. I was called in for a couple of more interviews. In fact, I ended up meeting with seven different people from Miami Performing Art Center (some of these were group interviews), plus a representative of a design firm they employ.

To make a long story short, I was hired, and we agreed on a start date of November 14, 2005. I gave my notice at my job on October 31 – exactly two weeks (less then I would like to have given, but that’s the way it worked out – there was a hurricane in there, remember?). I got my hire letter [link to a jpeg scan], and I couldn’t wait to start – I was thrilled.

On Wednesday, November 9, I got a call from the Center. Seems there is a blog called ‘Critical Miami,’ of which they had been unaware, which has some negative, and factually inaccurate, material about Miami Performing Arts Center, and the knowledge had caught them off guard.

Now, I should point out that Critical Miami is listed on my resume [pdf link; highlight added], although it’s true that I didn’t bring it up during the interviews. Anyway, it sounded like it was a serious problem for them, so I asked if I could send an e-mail to put my posts on the blog, as well as why I hadn’t brought it up during the interviews, into perspective. I sent the e-mail the next morning. In addition to the one post they’d mentioned, I pointed out two others. Here, here, and here are the three posts the e-mail references.

The e-mail wasn’t good enough. I got a call on Thursday, asking if I could come in Friday and discuss the situation. I pointed out that that was my last day at my old job, but they were pretty insistent, so I agreed. At this point I was pretty worried. I wanted to be ready for the meeting, and I spent a lot of time thinking what I was going to say, and how I’d respond to hypothetical questions. I also prepared a selection of printouts to have ready for questions: about a dozen printouts of grateful, positive e-mails from readers of the blog (including a couple from local journalists), another copy of my resume, and site stats.

The meeting was with Gail Eaton, as well as a couple of others from the organization. I was supposed to explain how I could work for the Miami Performing Arts Center when I’d written “so negatively” about it in the past. One of the things that they kept coming back to was that the fact that I hadn’t “disclosed” the blog was the real problem; yet they also spent lots of time incredulously quoting the posts, suggesting that the content was the problem. I mostly just tried to expand on the content of my e-mail. I pointed out that someone who takes an interest in the community might be just the sort of employee they want, but it was no use. In the end, I didn’t say whatever it was they needed to hear, and I was sent on my way, in the unfortunate position of having to ask my old employer for my job back (which worked out, luckily).

It’s difficult to say whether I had any chance of affecting anything in that meeting. I’m no lawyer, but I think I laid out a reasonably good case. At some points it felt like they’d made up their minds on Wednesday, and just decided to call me in for a little rebuke; other times it seemed like particular things I said were definitely working against me, and I should have had a set of talking points and just repeated them. Who knows? (I might point out that they never did point out anything in the posts that was factually inaccurate.)

The Miami Performing Arts Center is going to be just fine without me, and I’ll be just fine without them, so all this is really no big deal. I guess it’s just a little disappointing that such an important organization is being run this way.

Update: Blogs linking to this entry: Artblog, KH at Metroblogging and The Next Few Hours, Bark Bark Woof Woof, Hidden City, Flablog, Conservative Trail Head, Harlan Erskine, Dig, Sunshine State, 26th Parallel, Miamista, Infomaniac, babalĂș. Thank you everyone! (Technorati is not doing so great tracking all these.)

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  1. Mustang Bobby    Tue Dec 13, 06:37 AM #  

    I posted about your story on Bark Bark Woof Woof this morning.

  2. onajide    Tue Dec 13, 08:18 AM #  

    Yes, more and more blogging has cost people their jobs. Aware of that myself, I rarely say much about my employment even though it’s not one of my primary topics anyway. They are however, very aware of Miami Art Exchange and I think there are some expectations that some of their activities, as individuals or as an institution, appear online even though I feel sensitive to the potential conflict of interest issues. Anyway, I’m glad you are still employed.

  3. JSS    Tue Dec 13, 08:33 AM #  

    I cannot believe they are so small minded! Actually I can.

    The fact that they even called you in to have that conversation was soooo bush league. That was such a “I have nothing to do but create a time wasting, unnecessary situation that will make me feel powerful but accomplish nothing” moment. I would go with fragile psyches and insecurity at work. Can you imagine the tension level if you had to work there?

    More importantly, can you imagine that anyone would be averse to informed, well expressed critical writing from someone who obviously is both competent and passionate? Looks like you are really on the wrong scene. And to think, I had hopes that the PAC would widen and uplift- umhmmm.

    You are being very good about this, I’m sure out of a sense professionalism. Be glad you were disinvited to that that swirling pot of dysfuntion!

  4. Sean    Tue Dec 13, 08:43 AM #  

    Sue the bastards. Fucking midget-dicked power freaks.

  5. JSS    Tue Dec 13, 08:52 AM #  

    re: onajide’s comments

    Don’t get it twisted. Dude wasn’t working there at the time so there this was no Miami New Times moment.

    Nor did he criticize the work or mission of the office but the construction over-runs, etc., things that have been covered ad nauseum in all of the MSM.

    If a place with such a limited arts scene (or employment scene for that matter) starts to prohibit the hiring of people who had any criticism in past of an institution and its related workings than we have created an atmosphere where all expression and debate are chilled (to frozen).

    The fact that this is a publicly sponsored center brings in a lot of other issues here.

    The whole thing is so whack. This is why I only live in MIA part time.

  6. Hugh Bris    Tue Dec 13, 09:07 AM #  

    The fact that this is a publicly sponsored center brings in a lot of other issues here.

    With respect, I disagree, JSS. I think the factor weighed most heavily here is the administration’s insecurity and small-mindedness; its failure to apportion value properly (they had the man they wanted based on his talent and experience; why was that all of a sudden less vital?), and perhaps a touch of what Sean and you both note, above, regarding the irresistable abuse of power.

    It does not forebode well for the selection of talent and creation of seasons at the new facility. Once more, Miami drops a ball, comes up small, misses the boat, pulls up lame…......

  7. Val Prieto    Tue Dec 13, 09:12 AM #  

    I hadnt mentioned my blog to my boss and he’d never seen it until the Miami Herald ran that piece on me and plastered my mug on the front page. Luckily, he understands what and why I blog, so he really didnt give me a hard time.

    Of course, now he steps into my office every now and then to see if Im working or blogging.

  8. The Daily Sketch    Tue Dec 13, 10:47 AM #  

    I echo JSS’ comments. Why the f*ck even call you in? Why waste your time? I personally would have told them to f*ck off as soon as they asked for the ‘meeting’. But I’m rude like that. On the upside, you’re design work here at CM is superb. I realize it’s TextPattern and difficult to set up. I think you’ve done a great job.

  9. :!!x2    Tue Dec 13, 11:24 AM #  

    This might be a clue. A Craig’s List MiamiPAC job ad

  10. Hank    Tue Dec 13, 03:26 PM #  

    They hire and fire at their convenience. We bloggers are all free to express our opinions. That’s where the First Amendment protection ends. The consequences of speaking our minds is something we must live with. Losing a job opportunity today may seem severe. Ten years from today, we may all stand before a firing squad or face prison for the crime of blogging in 2005.

  11. mkh    Tue Dec 13, 03:29 PM #  

    Ten years? You’re an optimist.

  12. Steve Klotz    Tue Dec 13, 08:19 PM #  

    Yeah, well, their loss is our gain. To hell with ‘em.

  13. SWLiP    Thu Dec 15, 12:10 AM #  

    Mimochodem, pan Houdek, preju vam vesele vanoce. A taky abyste poslal ti blbci, kteri vam odmital zamestnat, do prcic!

  14. j-MAN    Thu Dec 15, 01:35 AM #  

    i totally agree with SWLiP…

  15. Biscayne Bystander    Fri Dec 23, 01:40 AM #  

    Am I the only one that thinks the Arts Center was right in getting upset this didn’t come up in the interview?

    I’m just confused as to why it was you that got fired. Why didn’t they let go of the idiots that interviewed and later hired you? They’re the one’s that didn’t research your resume.

    Must have been the same group that read the fine print on the projected building costs.


  16. Tech    Fri Jan 6, 11:13 AM #  

    C’mon man, lets be practical here. If you are running a company are you going to hire someone who has trashed you in the past? OK, how about someone who maybe trashed you? Well, how bout someone who posts his opinions about your company online? It’s a no-brainer to me. I would hire someone that could do the job and not be a pain in my arse.

  17. James    Fri Jan 6, 11:30 AM #  

    When you want someone to give you a job you might want to try something new to you . . . dont piss them off! OMG what a concept! You dont even have to say anyting bad, just dwelling on the negative is enough to disqualify you from some jobs. Heck i’ve seen people fired on a hunch, much less the front page of the Herald. Get your allegiances right and you wont have these problems.

  18. alesh    Fri Jan 6, 05:29 PM #  

    Tech~ I don’t think the logic behind MPAC’s decision is difficult to figure out… is the decision different for a non-profit organization who’s existence has been made possible by hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars?

    Maybe not. Maybe a thoughtful, critically minded employee is a bad employee. This would be particularly true if you had all the answers, and just wanted everyone to shut up and do what they’re told.

    James~ Again, it ought to be different for a company that theoretically answers to the public. More importantly, though, everything I wrote was before the job ever came up.

    What’s more, I offered to yank the blog alltogether, and it still wasn’t enough for them.

    If by “Get your allegiances right and you wont have these problems.” you mean I should use my blog to blow smoke up the asses of people who might be able to help my career, well, maybe you have a point.

  19. Hugh Bris    Sat Jan 7, 09:47 AM #  

    The fact of the matter is, when they hired Alesh they did so because they thought they had the best man for the job in terms of what should be of utmost importance, but apparently isn’t, namely talent. Whatever changed it certainly wasn’t the talent.

    And it’s a good point about whose money we’re talking about. People in non-profits, spending charitable and contributed dollars, need to fucking check their egos at the time clock. They have no right to be pissed off at legitimate, thoughtful criticism, which is, at most, what those blog posts contain; on he contrary, they need to be respectful of and responsive to what constituents say. That ain’t what happened here. Sad to say, it happens a lot, and we’re all the worse off for it.

  20. career voice    Sat Jan 7, 02:08 PM #  

    Rescinding an offer based on comments on a blog is not at all unusual. While I wish you the best in your career I must say that mentioning the name of the person you met with will probably haunt you later. To specifically mention her name after you have established a direct tie/connection/relationship with the art center is poor form. People look to evidence of qualifications, loyalty, professionalism, decorum, and good judgement in candidates and certainly those they hire. You did exactly what they knew you would, eventually, do in public—air dirty laundry or out of context information. While Miami may be relaxed, certain workplaces in the city take professionalism seriously. Things that may fly in one environment won’t in another, especially if the organization is run by transplants from other U.S. cities. Always consider the other viewpoint when he comes to employment. I realize you may not think what you said post event is not that bad but not it’s about degrees of disclosure, rather, discussing something that shouldn’t be discussed in public.

  21. Merkin    Sat Jan 7, 05:39 PM #  

    I hire a lot of people: laborers, architects, skilled craftsmen, etc. I don’t give a damn what they say or think or write, about me or anything else. I just hire the best I can afford.

    There’s two conditions for who I hire: they can’t stink and they can’t steal, and I’m not strict about the first one.

    I concede that most employers don’t think this way, and that what happened here happens a lot. And I don’t use my own real name when I write comments on blogs for that very reason.

    It’s just another demonstration that the real world we live in is fucked up one side and down the other, and the rules we play by aren’t the ones a smarter, better world would run by.

    Happy New Year.

  22. john    Sat Jan 7, 09:47 PM #  

    It all seems so done. I’ve said it before- the guy dodged a bullet by not working there. I respect everyone’s right to their opinion, I am just tired of coming across some of the contrarians by nature.

    EVERYBODY knows about the debacle that has went on in terms of the budget and schedule overages. If they didn’t they would not be qualified for the position.

    Ex. Even the Herald knows that most of its employees don’t think much of it. Writers allude to it in the paper.

    I can’t remember any place that I worked where the majority of people were not happy with some things and voiced it in and out of the office. This guy didn’t even work there yet. Just as important was HOW the thing was handled. Gail Eaton’s behavior was really bush league.

    I expect that a few people would not hire me again if they knew what I write about them. Actually a few do and they still hire me(because they agree.)

    I thought Alesh was really good about the whole thing. Most people would have been openly spiteful.

    I suspect that GE is the loser because of the dispassionate and ultimately positive way in which he related the matter. GE will learn that there are consequences for her disturbing behavior, which should have been one of the many reasons she shouldn’t have handled the thing in the manner that she did.

  23. Franklin    Sun Jan 8, 01:12 AM #  

    Did somebody say consequences? Look comes up on page 1 when you Google ‘Miami Performing Arts Center’.

  24. Tech    Tue Jan 17, 09:34 AM #  

    So a company that answers to the public ‘should’ hire someone that probably will post and discuss company business outside the organization? ... hmm, ideally?-maybe, really?-hell no. I hope you can see the conflict of interest here. Your point of view is that they should hire you and your attitudes towards free speech. Their point of view seems a bit more realistic. Don’t let your fancy cloud your judgment, and think about the consequences of your actions before you do them. I would have either never considered employment there, or blogged with a more optimistic tone. Knowing that one day I might want a job there. Not kissing ass, but sincerely having a more optimistic tone with all your blogs. It’s easy to get peoples attention dwelling on the negative. Lets maybe take this a step beyond, and go so far as to even say that you have a responsibility to the readers of your website, to remain unbiased in your postings. And that entertaining an employment opportunity with such a previously discussed organization would sway the direction of your free speech website towards one that may not represent the spirit of true free speech, that you seem so ready to defend. You were even ready to take the content offline, effectively selling-out your right to free speech to earn a buck. And hey, can I judge you for it? No. Should you post about your dissapointment with how other people handle them selves? Including their names? I don’t think so either. My point is that everyones shit stinks sir. Go around farting in everyone else’s space and eventually you might have to smell your own!

  25. conductor    Thu May 25, 09:22 AM #  

    That really sucks, Alesh. I’m catching up on some your posts from the past few months and just saw this. Total bullshit.

  26. Tere    Thu May 25, 10:48 AM #  

    I once lost a job because of a letter I wrote to the Herald (that was published). The shock of it sucked (yes, yes, I cried because I had had no malicious intent, and there was actually no direct connection between my letter and job – but I guess there was an indirect one), but given the chance for a do-over, I’d write that letter again in a heartbeat.

    And I told them on my way out that I stood by what I had written, just so there wasn’t any doubt.

  27. Tere    Thu May 25, 10:50 AM #  

    Oh wait, I resigned from the job.