August 6, 2004

Nunavut Tourism fires web-logging staffer

Dismissal follows complaint from anonymous local resident

Nunatsiaq News

A Nunavut Tourism marketing officer was fired last month after a local resident complained about a web site she ran in her spare time.

Penny Cholmondeley, known on the Internet as "Polar Penny," was surprised to learn on July 18 that she was being fired because of the online journal, or web log, she had kept since her arrival in Iqaluit in January.

The web log, or "blog," was easily found by typing the words "Polar Penny" into a search engine, and often topped search engine lists generated by people looking up a local business in Iqaluit, or for photos of Frobisher Bay.

During the six months she lived in Iqaluit, Cholmondeley regularly updated the site with details about life in the North, including photographs, anecdotes, and what she thought were personal opinions, including food and restaurant reviews.

Cholmondeley was baffled when executive director Maureen Bundgaard said that she had received an anonymous complaint from someone in town, and that she had to let Cholmondeley go, just before the end of her six month probation period.

Without warning, and with no chance to amend or take down the site, Cholmondeley was fired from Nunavut Tourism at the height of Nunavut's tourist season.

When contacted this week, Bundgaard declined to comment on the dismissal.

Cholmondeley says she never intended to associate Nunavut Tourism with a web site she perceived as strictly personal. "I'm kind of stunned."

But the problem was that the web site, all about Cholmondeley, clearly states the reason that Chomondeley came to the North - to work for Nunavut Tourism.

Blogs Canada, a web site that indexes web logs from around the country, described the site as "Musings on life in Iqaluit, Nunavut and the oddities of daily existence in the Canadian Arctic."

A typical entry covered the Toonik Tyme igloo building contest, along with a description of how it's done, and photos of Penny and her boyfriend inside the winning igloo.

Another feature describes a walk that Cholmondeley and her boyfriend took around Iqaluit, and includes photos of trash piled up around town.

Cholmondeley started the web log years ago as a place where she could write about the events in her life. In fact, she used her blog as an example of her writing when she applied for the job with Nunavut Tourism, and had talked about the site at work.

The site was mainly intended as a diary for her friends and family, and to document "what it's like to move here from Edmonton or Vancouver," where she lived before coming to Iqaluit.

"Ninety per cent of the hits to my site are from my mom," she says.

But people who were looking on the Web for information about Iqaluit were also using Cholmondeley's site.

In six months, she received emails from three separate people who had come across her web site while looking for information on visiting Nunavut. All three of them gave positive feedback on the web site and on Nunavut.

"Iqaluit is different and it is weird," Cholmondeley says, echoing the often sarcastic or wryly amused tone of much of her site. "That doesn't mean I didn't have a good time and enjoy the community."

Cholmondeley voluntarily removed the site from the Internet at the request of her former employer, and is treating the experience as a lesson learned. "I don't think people making web logs realize that they can get fired."

On July 26, Cholmondeley caught a flight to Nanaimo, B.C. where she plans to look for a new job. In a few weeks, Polar Penny will become Pacific Penny.

Nunavut Tourism is now advertising for a new marketing officer.

"Lucky for them, I'm a pretty good filer," Cholmondeley says.


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