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Survey: Despite Media Attention, Newsrooms Not Ready to Deal With Workplace Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment in media workplaces has made big news, but those who manage America’s newsrooms are not ready to talk about it, according to a recent survey from the Columbia Journalism Review [1].

CJR, which is operated by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, designed separate surveys for reporters, freelancers and human resources executives and other senior managers to assess the state of sexual harassment in newsrooms around the country.

Some 310 staff and freelance journalists responded, 81 percent of them female. Dozens of employees provided stories of being sexually harassed in their current and previous newsrooms. None of the 149 newsrooms contacted for the human resources and management survey provided a response.

Columbia Journalism Review sent out 135 surveys to HR directors, senior editors, communications directors and press officers on Nov. 8, then 14 more on Nov. 15. It sent follow-up emails and had Columbia Journalism Review staffers contact their friends to urge management to respond.

Survey administrators said 33 percent of the corporate recipients opened the first email and 9 percent clicked through to the survey itself.

The Wall Street Journal-Dow Jones opened the email 11 times in total. The Intercept opened it six times, and the Atlantic opened it five times.

According to CJR, the form asked for editorial staff demographics and a detailed explanation of existing sexual harassment policies and reporting procedures.

“Our goal was to apply the same standards of transparency to our peers that we demand of other industries,” CJR wrote. “With every new allegation of harassment and abuse that surfaces in the news, readers repeatedly ask how it was that inappropriate behavior went unaddressed so long, and increasingly, as reported in Politico’s Morning Media newsletter, reporters being their coverage of these accounts ‘by pointing out that no one had previously complained to management.’”

Sharon Sellers, president of SLS Consulting, which helps companies develop sexual harassment policies and training courses, said companies may not have responded because there was no guarantee the names of respondents would be kept anonymous.

Sellers said it was also possible that newsroom managers were not confident they were pursuing the right policies.

“If they were sure they were doing things the right way, they might more readily open themselves up to potential criticism,” the report said.

Both the headlines – including names such as Mark Halperin and Charlie Rose – and the numbers suggest uncertainty in how to proceed.

Two-thirds of reporters said their companies had clear sexual harassment policies, but just 21 percent strongly agreed they understood these policies. Thirty-four percent said they either disagreed or strongly disagreed they understood the policies.

Most said they had received some information about sexual harassment policies when they were hired, but nearly three-fourths said they had heard little or nothing about it since.

Nearly 96 percent of freelancers said they never received the sexual harassment policies of their employers, and of the 20 freelancers who said they worked on-site at least three times per month, none had received such policies.

That said, it is not surprising 80 percent of freelancers said they would not know how to report an instance of sexual misconduct involving newsrooms they work for, and 90 percent said their freelance contracts made no mention of sexual harassment policies or how to handle reporting predators.

Among staff reporters, only 35 percent said they felt safe at work and more than half said they would not know how to report an incident of sexual harassment in the workplace.

More than two in five of the women who responded said they personally had experienced sexual harassment and 28 percent said they had witnessed another journalist being harassed. Of those two-thirds of victims and four in five of those who had observed this behavior did not report it.

“Women, of course, have long known” about the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace, and “they’re ready to talk about it.”