“Creating a Safe Work Environment” panel dives into #MeToo in the workplace

Jun 22, 2018

Panelists Helen Barrington, Joy Grese, Bruce Shapiro, Keith Woods, and Nancy Cassutt

The PRNDI 2018 conference jumped into important issues with a look at creating a safe work environment in newsrooms across the country. With the start of the #Metoo movement and several sexual harassment and bullying revelations in the media recently, panelists discussed how news managers and editors can create an emotionally-safe work environment.

The panel began with a clip from the video “Let’s Talk: Personal Boundaries, Safety, and Women in Journalism,” a Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma project featuring interviews of female journalists, writers, correspondents, and filmmakers, discussing their personal experiences with harassment in the workplace and the methods we can use to create a safer environment.

According to “Do Sexual Harassment Prevention Trainings Really Work?” by Vicki J. Magley and Joanna L. Grossman, workplace harassment is pervasive—four in 10 working women report experiencing harassment within any two-year period.

Sexual harassment occurs in almost every field — the tech industry, health, business, etc. But the concern in public media is that increased harassment in the industry will deter aspiring young journalists from careers and supporters of public media will no longer want to donate to organizations that are letting harassment happen or not taking action against it.

But what can we do as journalists?

A large portion of the harassment that occurs in newsrooms, according to Joy Grese, Special Counsel with Duane Morris Law Firm, is hostile work environment harassment: any verbal or physical conduct that's unwelcoming, creating an intimidating work environment.

"States are really playing in heavily on these issues. They're putting pressure on employers," said Grese.

Grese said New York, among other states, is now requiring mandatory sexual harassment training. It’s important to remember that these issues are “not limited to the four walls of the newsroom,” said Grese. Supervisors have more responsibility to make sure their employees understand that harassment can occur at social events, and in social media.

Bruce Shapiro, Executive Director of the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma, talked about how harassment is a challenging issue for everyone in the business right now.

“We have a generation of male journalists seeing colleagues being called out for their actions,” said Shapiro.

Shapiro said reporters who cover traumatic events as journalists feel more trauma when they come back to a hostile work environment in the office. But news managers can change that by fostering conversation in the newsroom, training journalists in better self-care, and providing peer-support training.

“We can’t have a conversation about safety in the workplace without talking about harassment, and vice versa,” said Shapiro.

Nancy Cassutt, Executive Director for News and Programming at Minnesota Public Radio, spoke about reporting on sexual harassment within one's own organization. In 2017 and 2018, MPR covered the news of accusations against long-time Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor. Minnesota Public Radio terminated all business relationships with Keillor as a result of "allegations of his inappropriate behavior with an individual who worked with him.”

“We treated the reporting as if we were reporting on another company,” said Cassutt. The team was instructed to stay away from company meetings about the harassment accusation and not to use information from internal emails on the subject in their reporting.

Even though the MPR news team working on this investigation faced some backlash from employees at the company, who felt “unsafe,” Cassutt said the experience made the team “better journalists going forward.”  

The panel then took questions from news directors and members of stations across the country about the issue of sexual harassment and safe workplaces. Panelists advised that new managers need to feel confident in their responses to harassment; they can’t assume people know what to do if and when they experience harassment in the workplace.; They emphasized that in big and small newsrooms alike, it’s important to have those conversations about what to do if you or a colleague is ever in that situation.