While Exposing Harassment, Newsrooms Must Tackle Own Culture of Sexual Misconduct

Since The New York Times broke the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment story in October, many more names of those in power contributing to a toxic environment in the workplace have followed. Journalistic outlets are not immune. 

Political journalist Mark Halperin was accused and subsequently dropped by MSNBC, where he was an analyst, and by Penguin Press, set to publish his upcoming book about the 2016 election.

Then Matt Lauer was ousted from NBC for a history of aggressive sexual misconduct. On heels of Lauer’s dismissal, Vice& lt; /i> fired three of its staffers for “verbal and sexual harassment to other behavior that is inconsistent with our policies, our values, and the way in which we believe colleagues should work together,” The New York Times reported in a company memo.

Those reporting the news should feel most compelled to ensure their own workplace environments are safe, welcoming places for all employees, at least to avoid the charge of hypocrisy. However, the Columbia Journalism Review says that may not be the case, releasing the first of their findings of workplace harassment following a series of surveys sent out to staff writers, editors, freelance journalists and human resource departments.

The CJR created three surveys. The first two were issued in late October, one sent to journalists and the other to HR professionals and other senior managements in newsrooms. The third was sent to freelance journalists. 

The surveys sought to illustrate the policies at work in newsrooms of organizations ranging from NPR to The Atlantic, Vice to BBC News by asking questions, such as: “Does your employer have a policy on sexual harassment?” and giving individuals the option to respond with a range of reactions to statements like “I know and understand my company’s policy on sexual misconduct.” 

The responses illuminated an industry that doesn’t know where it stands on sexual misconduct from within.

As of November 13, CJR had heard back from 310 staff and freelance journalists at work in the U.S. and internationally. Some 81% of respondents identified as female, with 16% identifying as male, and the remaining respondents identifying as third-gender or non-binary and transgender.

Sixty-six percent of respondents said their companies had a sexual harassment policy, but only 21% replied they “strongly agreed” that they understood the policies in place. The numbers reveal there is work to be done within news organizations that strive to create respectful and safe environments for their employees.

CJR reports that in many cases, newsroom managers have begun to reissue packets revisiting established policies, while also advising employees on how to report inappropriate conduct.

“But those efforts will be in vain if employees don’t have a clear understanding of what those resources mean, and how to use them if necessary,” the study says. They site a lack of regular training that continues beyond the on-boarding process, when many staff members take part in sexual-harassment classes. 

Most troubling, though, is organizations that did not reply. Of the 149 news organizations sent a survey, not one HR or upper-management representative responded. These included representatives at The Wall Street JournalThe New York TimesHarper’s and Slate

An outside source interviewed by CJR stated many of the organizations might have been hesitant to reveal their policies, as those policies can be criticized by third parties.

However, in light of the cascading accusations that continue to surface, now is the time for newsrooms across the U.S. and around the world to establish themselves as models of ethical treatment of employees. Newsrooms should be working to provide room for all staff members to have a space where they can devote themselves to journalistic pursuits, rather than forced to protect themselves from predators within.

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