An uncomfortable truth

January 11, 2018 11:00

I had the privilege and the challenge this week of representing RTDNA at the Power Shift Summit hosted by the Newseum. At the day-long meeting navigated by longtime RTDNA friend Jill Geisler, media industry leaders tackled “ending silence and changing systems in the media industry.”

The catalyst for organizing the discussion was the recent downfall of several high profile news media figures thanks to the voices of a few courageous women, some of whom were in attendance.

The impetus was addressing sexual harassment and assault in newsrooms.

The takeaway is that our newsrooms - one could argue, our society – is facing a systemic crisis of culture.

If you think this is new, it’s not.

If you think it’s never happened in your newsroom, think again.

Jill began the conversation by acknowledging that for this conversation to be necessary means we have all failed.

And, while now is an apt time to start the conversation about sexual harassment and assault, it’s not just important in a crisis. It matters before a crisis, and it matters all the time, because it’s part of a broader conversation.

Broader issues of workplace culture came up repeatedly throughout the day as the group considered what factors have created environments ripe for abuse. It’s amazing the wealth of insights and ideas that emerged from a room in which no one looked like anyone else.

Lack of diversity, ingrained newsroom hierarchies and little internal transparency create environments ripe for pay gaps, talent drain, power imbalances, and, ultimately, potential abuse.
On the other hand, newsrooms with a diversity of people and ideas, support for new professionals, opportunities for leadership, trust in management, and healthy work-life balance expectations are better equipped to prevent abuse, and have healthier workplace cultures overall.
What should newsrooms do to develop healthier workplaces?
  • Recognize the business reasons for a more diverse, more flexible workplace. Diversity of people leads to a diversity of ideas and, ultimately better coverage. Newsrooms that better reflect increasingly diverse communities will thrive over those that don’t.
  • Measure. You can’t be accountable for changing what you don’t know. Start by identifying where you are now
  • Practice internal transparency. Just as with your external audiences, transparency creates trust. If you’re a trusted leader, your team will feel safe coming to you, so you can address problems before they escalate.
  • Ant-harassment training is often seen as punitive, just to protect the company, or counterproductive. Training should be a proactive discussion about keeping your employees safe.
  • Model the behavior you want to see and advocate for your team. Don’t just say it with policies and procedures – show it. Your team members should know how they can expect to be treated.
  • Protect the most vulnerable and often marginalized, including interns, minority and LGBTQ populations. Make sure their voices are heard and amplified and their expertise legitimized.
  • Know your rights, and as a leader be responsible for helping others know their rights.
  • Listen. It’s ok not to have all the answers right away. Listen without judgement or defensiveness.
The common denominator? Respect.

It seems simple, but we’re clearly falling short.

It was grueling, tense and inspiring to listen to the stories told at the Power Shift Summit. I hope you’ll watch the archived video – I’ve included the Newseum’s highlights below and we’ll post the full video as soon as it’s available.

It’s important to talk about.  

I hope we’ll do more than talk about it.


Watch the full discussion:
Session 1: Assessing Where We Are
Session 2: Behind the Power Shift
Session 3: Changing the Systems