Ever since Harvey Weinstein’s accusers opened the floodgates for other victims to tell their stories, the news has been dominated by claims. The last couple of days, it’s been the news itself (as in news organizations) that have had their share of sexual misconduct claims. Is this as rampant in the media as it seems to be in Hollywood?
First, let’s look at the two biggest reports which have come out in the last day or two: Huffington Post and Vice…
When Susan Fowler rocked Uber’s world with a meticulous account of the company’s sexual harassment and gender discrimination issues, the ride-sharing service turned to its only female board member to help clean up its culture (and its image). Arianna Huffington was perfectly poised to position herself as the feminist savior who would advocate for Uber’s women—she oversaw the subsequent Eric Holder investigation, and promised that “no brilliant jerks will be allowed, and no one will be protected because they are top performers.” But being a powerful woman with a stake in a company, and its profits, doesn’t mean Huffington was actually the best choice to champion women struggling to make their voices heard.
In the summer of 2015, Phoebe Barghouty was 23 years old and had a new master’s degree in journalism from Stanford—but little other experience—when she landed what most of her peers would consider a dream job: associate producer at Vice’s Los Angeles bureau.
Though her job hadn’t technically started yet, her boss, then-Editor in Chief Jason Mojica, invited her to join the team at the L.A. Press Club Awards. After accepting an award for public service in journalism, the team from Vice—including Mojica and Kaj Larsen, the bureau chief who had hired Barghouty—celebrated with drinks. By the end of the night, Barghouty says a very drunk Larsen had brought up sex (musing about his chances with a group of “black girls” at the bar), asked her for a ride home, then passed out in her car.
These won’t be the last two claims. In fact, there are rumors of another major blog-style news site about to face similar claims, but those rumors haven’t been verified so we’ll hold on them for now.
In larger news organizations such as television networks and major newspapers, these types of activities are bound to take place. Smaller publications, even the “biggest of the little guys” like Huffington Post and Vice, are supposed to be safer. Many journalists have been flocking to these sites for their lower journalistic standards (what some call “increased flexibility”) and the general trend away from big New York or DC newsrooms. Bloggers are more spread out; heck, I’ve never even met any other writers here at NOQ Report.
The problem is that these sites are no longer relegated to the bloggers’ basement. They ARE full-blown news organizations even if they’ve only been around for a few years. That’s the trend in journalism. It also seems to be very likely these cases are not isolated.
A “boys will be boys” attitude
Here’s the biggest problem facing organizations like these that don’t have decades of experience dealing with this sort of internal challenges. They think they’re above the law, or to be more accurate, above the risk of breaking the law. I spent a short time working for one and while I never experienced anything myself, I heard from women who had. Just because a site is part of new media doesn’t mean it won’t succumb to old problems.
They pretend like they don’t. They feel like it’s such a privilege to be part of a growing new media company they fall into the same trap as major news organizations:
“It’s no big deal.”
“This is part of the business.”
“Boys will be boys.”
I contend that sexual misconduct in various degrees are rampant throughout the media, even in smaller organizations. Those who are trying to build up a major news force (such as NOQ Report) must always be cognizant of this potential problem. Stop it before it starts. Neither HuffPo nor Vice is likely to suffer major setbacks as the result of their current scandals, but wouldn’t it be better to avoid the scandals in the first place?