Your News Outlet Needs a Sexual Harassment Beat

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The post-Weinstein era is just beginning in Hollywood, and a piece in the latest issue of the New Yorker captures the mood as more women come forward, studios change workplace policies, and harassers wait for the ax to drop. The frantic reckoning has come in part because of intense media attention, but this is a long-term story that requires a long-term focus. The question is how long publications will spend the money to maintain the pressure on this industry and others.

Over the past several weeks, Dana Goodyear writes, The Hollywood Reporter has created a seven-person team to investigate sexual misconduct. To put that number in perspective: The New York Times bulked up its White House team to six full-time journalists when the Trump administration took power last year. They are the sort of buildups not often seen at a time of cutbacks across much of the media industry.

Goodyear, who spoke with Hollywood Reporter journalist Kim Masters, reports that the magazine’s team receives 10 to 15 tips per day. She continues:

Masters decides which [tips] to pursue based on the criteria of egregiousness and reportorial difficulty—very egregious and very difficult she pursues assiduously. “These companies, they know,” she said. “They know that very high-level people are vulnerable. And I have no doubt they are in a state of absolute panic. With some of these people, it could hurt the company’s stock if these things get revealed. There’s a huge burden of responsibility, with implications all the way to Wall Street.” While pursuing the John Lasseter story, which she broke, she reached out to a Disney source and said, “I guess you know what I’m calling about.” He simply said, “Yes, I do.” More bombshells were coming, she assured me. “There are people on the job right now exhibiting very dubious behavior,” she said. “They know who they are.”


The difficulty of reporting such stories is hard to overstate. Tips often come in the form of second- or third-hand knowledge; entertainment companies have powerful legal and PR departments ready to do battle; and harassment victims are often sworn to silence by non-disclosure agreements, fear professional repercussions, or would simply rather not relive humiliating experiences in public. The situations require reporters to maneuver carefully in the face of corporate pushback and show a particular type of empathy toward people who have plenty of understandable reasons not to talk.

There has been a lot of high-impact reporting on this topic in recent months by various news organizations. But some of the best has come from journalists who themselves have been victims of harassment—take Suki Kim’s report on New York Public Radio host John Hockenberry, or Laura McGann’s first-person feature on Glenn Thrush—and journalists who’ve otherwise developed special expertise on the topic. It’s no coincidence that, as Emily Steel wrote in her recent New York Times takeout on Vice Media, “more than a dozen women and men contacted The Times with accounts that they said were humiliating and emotionally traumatic.” Those people actually reached out to the Times because Steel—to say nothing of colleagues Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey, and others with bylines on harassment investigations—has a reputation for handling such stories with the care they deserve.

Which is why The Hollywood Reporter’s team has inspired some fear among certain corners of the entertainment industry. The publication’s focus on this issue reflects public demand to hold bad men who shape much of American culture accountable. Some of those men, in Hollywood and elsewhere, will no doubt resign or be fired as more reports are published. But that’s just the beginning of the bigger story. Then come far deeper questions of how to change workplace cultures and entrenched power structures, making the need for expertise—and dedicated beat reporters—all the more necessary.

I write about media for Splinter. I have redeeming qualities, too.

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