This last year has been turbulent in many ways. One of them for business journalism has been learning far more about sexual harassment and gender discrimination than was generally done before. But the work is hardly done and there are two major areas that reporters, editors, and publications need to explore.
Sexual Harassment Remains
The repercussions of what has been a too-common practice in business—sexual harassment—are still reverberating. For example, consider Les Moonves. His employment contract reportedly had $120 million in compensation left but was fired for cause as a result of multiple sexual misconduct allegations.
But outcomes such as that or whatever the final adjudication facing Harvey Weinstein are only high-profile examples of something that still happens every day. And yet, general interest has already begun to wane even though the issue has not. To focus on an issue endemic in an industry, or in a society, is relatively easy, at least in the short run. Rushes of intense coverage can draw millions into fascination. Sustaining the attention is difficult.
And then, as there was attention on shoddy and even criminal behavior of one sort, others were ignored. Beyond the repulsive and violent behavior that has come out, what about equal opportunity and treatment for other protected groups? There’s still discrimination by age, race, and religion. Now is a good time to rededicate efforts to address them all.
To do so, it’s important to realize two common weakness in any type of journalism: the rush to saturation coverage and fascination with novelty.
Tabloids and, frequently, cable news coverage of scandals, accidents, crimes, and natural disasters are the most common examples of saturation coverage. But such can be found in any news organization. In some cases, that may be a reasonable approach. From one standpoint, you want to ensure that you satisfy the audience and not let other news organizations get a competitive advantage. To do so does address a business need.
But the approach is draining and can be like having a large batch of someone’s favorite food. At first it is welcome but then becomes tiring. To undertake the longer-term coverage required by important topics, set a more moderate pace. Don’t plan on delivering everything at once. Create a schedule of ongoing pieces and investigations, which also provides more time to do them.
Regarding the fascination with novelty, it is something everyone, particularly journalists, fall prey to. It is necessary to develop the discipline to keep on, but it may also make sense to structure responsibilities to allow people to shift from a single intense focus. Let reporters cover the core issue and perhaps one or two other topics. It is like changing positions to avoid a cramp or a limb falling asleep. There is a secondary advantage as well. Different areas can cross-fertilize in ways that you can’t expect at the onset. The result is better work on all fronts.