The rise of radical newsroom transparency

“Going forward, executives must be prepared to justify hiring and promotion decisions not only to staff but to the broader public.”

I think journalism is about to see the rise of radical transparency within newsrooms, driven by staff members.

The past few years have seen dozens of headline-grabbing scandals involving major news outlets. Not just the #MeToo investigations at NPR, APM, NBC News, The New Republic, CBS, PBS, The New York Times, WNYC, WBUR, and Tronc, but accusations of racial discrimination and harassment at many other organizations as well.

In my work on racial justice, I hear a similar sentiment from journalists all over the country: I’m not sure this will get fixed fast enough for me. If our major news organizations do succeed in becoming equitable and inclusive, it might take years, as so few have shown any appetite for the kind of radical change necessary.

Often, in years past, complaints of a sensitive nature have been addressed behind closed doors. The decision-making process has been opaque and leaders have felt no obligation to share the details of why some team members are let go while others are retained or even promoted. Investigations into abuse, even when carried out by outside agencies, tend to find that yes, problems exist, but they’re somehow not the fault of anyone in management.

Because these issues were never addressed openly, because employees were often punished when they chose to discuss “sensitive issues” with other staff members, leaders were able to continue operating after accusations of abuse without making any substantive changes in policies or procedures.

In the past, it was very difficult to get colleagues to talk about their salaries or their experiences in their workplaces. Now, many are sharing that information without being asked. Journalists have lost patience with the lack of transparency and accountability within their leadership ranks. Many of them, especially the younger ones, are fully prepared to drive change by going public with issues of inequity, harassment, racism, and sexism.

I don’t think this is a short-lived trend; I think it’s the new norm. Going forward, executives must be prepared to justify hiring and promotion decisions not only to staff but to the broader public. What’s more, recruiting talent will become more complicated, as abusive workplaces will be identified and journalists will be warned in a much more open way about which shops they should avoid.

To enforce silence, leaders must either use a threat of punishment or have earned the benefit of the doubt from staff. In many cases, neither of those conditions apply anymore. Journalists are finding support from each other, enough to overcome the fear of retaliation, and many leaders have lost the trust of their teams. It may take years to regain that trust.

In the meantime, journalists will continue to talk to each other openly and honestly, revealing the information that has been secret for so long. For news executives, the days of hiding behind boardroom doors may be over.

I think journalism is about to see the rise of radical transparency within newsrooms, driven by staff members.

The past few years have seen dozens of headline-grabbing scandals involving major news outlets. Not just the #MeToo investigations at NPR, APM, NBC News, The New Republic, CBS, PBS, The New York Times, WNYC, WBUR, and Tronc, but accusations of racial discrimination and harassment at many other organizations as well.

In my work on racial justice, I hear a similar sentiment from journalists all over the country: I’m not sure this will get fixed fast enough for me. If our major news organizations do succeed in becoming equitable and inclusive, it might take years, as so few have shown any appetite for the kind of radical change necessary.

Often, in years past, complaints of a sensitive nature have been addressed behind closed doors. The decision-making process has been opaque and leaders have felt no obligation to share the details of why some team members are let go while others are retained or even promoted. Investigations into abuse, even when carried out by outside agencies, tend to find that yes, problems exist, but they’re somehow not the fault of anyone in management.

Because these issues were never addressed openly, because employees were often punished when they chose to discuss “sensitive issues” with other staff members, leaders were able to continue operating after accusations of abuse without making any substantive changes in policies or procedures.

In the past, it was very difficult to get colleagues to talk about their salaries or their experiences in their workplaces. Now, many are sharing that information without being asked. Journalists have lost patience with the lack of transparency and accountability within their leadership ranks. Many of them, especially the younger ones, are fully prepared to drive change by going public with issues of inequity, harassment, racism, and sexism.

I don’t think this is a short-lived trend; I think it’s the new norm. Going forward, executives must be prepared to justify hiring and promotion decisions not only to staff but to the broader public. What’s more, recruiting talent will become more complicated, as abusive workplaces will be identified and journalists will be warned in a much more open way about which shops they should avoid.

To enforce silence, leaders must either use a threat of punishment or have earned the benefit of the doubt from staff. In many cases, neither of those conditions apply anymore. Journalists are finding support from each other, enough to overcome the fear of retaliation, and many leaders have lost the trust of their teams. It may take years to regain that trust.

In the meantime, journalists will continue to talk to each other openly and honestly, revealing the information that has been secret for so long. For news executives, the days of hiding behind boardroom doors may be over.

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