By Sandy K. Johnson

After the initial furor subsided over well-known journalists who had sexually assaulted or harassed colleagues, it was time to look inward. What went wrong? How did predators survive and even thrive in our midst?

There is no one answer, of course. But the harassment and fallout created an opportunity for newsroom managers to re-think old practices and draw up new guidelines.

In a National Press Foundation webinar, three newsroom leaders discussed ways to eliminate toxic behavior and encourage victims to come forward.

NPR went through an internal crisis in real time after its top news executive was fired for predatory behavior. “We took a hard look at ourselves,” said Loren Mayor, chief operating officer at NPR. She said the company has implemented sexual harassment training for its staff and created numerous new “listening” avenues – ironic, she said, since “listening is our business model.” Mayor said an anonymous hotline established to report ethical violations has been adapted so NPR staff can report harassment.

Carrie Budoff Brown, editor of Politico, said the company set up an anonymous email inbox to report harassment and requires employees to sign a statement that they have read the staff handbook, which includes a section on harassment. She said Politico recently unveiled five company-wide goals at a staff town hall; for the first time one goal addresses expectations of appropriate behavior.

Brown said she routinely calls out people who are yelling at staff or otherwise treating colleagues poorly. “It comes from the top,” she said. “I personally intervene.”

Joanne Lipman is the former editor-in-chief of USA Today and author of a very timely book, “That’s What She Said: What Men Need To Know (And Women Need To Tell Them) About Working Together.” She said part of the problem is that newsroom are still dominated by men: One-third of newsroom personnel are women, but just 17 percent of senior positions are held by women. She said concrete guidelines are important to set the tone and curb inappropriate behavior.

“You need very clear rules, and then expect everyone to follow the rules,” Lipman said.

All three said victims of harassment shouldn’t shrug it off or remain silent. “I can’t solve a problem I don’t know about,” Brown said, akin to the anti-terrorism slogan “If you see something, say something.”

Mayor said people need to report offensive behavior so that managers can identify patterns by harassers. “It’s almost never a one-off,” she said.

Other suggestions:

  • Make sure your code of conduct or staff handbook is up to date. Make it required reading.
  • Be clear about your organizational values and insist that management represent them. Every day.
  • Set up sexual harassment training.
  • Create anonymous avenues for victims to report sexual or other harassment.
  • Have a structure in place to guide a review or investigation, as well as any disciplinary process.
  • Listen.