The ‘power’ of respect in the newsroom

I was honored to represent SPJ this month at “The Power Shift Summit,” a meeting of more than 100 media leaders in Washington, D.C. who came together with a shared purpose: “to address the problem of sexual misconduct in newsrooms and to identify solutions for creating meaningful and sustainable change.”

The invitation-only event, held at the Newseum’s Knight Conference Center, was organized as a series of discussions featuring leaders from all media platforms. Journalists who have reported stories about sexual misconduct, and victims of that misconduct, discussed the impact of the coverage to date. The event was trending on Twitter under #PowerShiftSummit for most of the day.

The end of the summit offered some solutions as to what newsrooms and media organizations are doing to deal with emerging cases, and what systemic changes are needed for the future. They included educating young journalists about their rights to a safe and hostile-free workplace, involving human resources as a partner in developing and enforcing sexual misconduct policies, including men in any and all conversations about sexual misconduct, and making sure sexual harassment awareness and prevention is an ongoing topic.

One solution stood out: creating a culture of respect in the newsroom. Too often, rudeness, hostility and boorishness can open the door to more serious misconduct. In short, management should not tolerate seemingly minor acts of bad behavior and stop them from spreading or worsening. In the words of some of the panelists (and yes, these are exact quotes) “Don’t be an a**hole. Don’t hire a**holes.”

As members of SPJ, each of us can serve as an example of what an ethical, respectful and tolerant journalist should be. We can be leaders of good behavior in our newsrooms and in the field. We can take steps to see that our workplaces not only have sexual misconduct policies in place but that they are enforcing them. We can share SPJ’s sexual harassment resources page with your colleagues and encourage them to speak up about any abuse they see or experience. Working together, we can we stop the scourge of sexual harassment.

Postscript: I was delighted to see two members of the Sigma Delta Chi board (SPJ’s foundation) at the summit: Evelyn Hsu, representing the Maynard Institute as its executive director, and Sonya Ross, representing the Associated Press as its race and ethnicity editor. Both serve the SDX board well.

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