Media in 2017: the year we started driving bullies out of the industry

Out of all the industries where sexual abusers were discovered, media is right up there with Hollywood in the leading role. Which could turn out to be exactly what we need to upgrade towards a more sustainable digital future. 

Zuzanna Ziomecka
Zuzanna Ziomecka Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland
Media in 2017:  the year  we  started driving  bullies out of the industry - NewsMavens
Marjory Collins [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Out of the 47 men who lost their jobs over #MeToo allegations presented in a recent New York Times article, 12 were from the media. That’s nearly 25% and the Gray Lady missed a few notable cases from Europe, including Reinhard Göweil -- the editor in chief of the top Austrian newspaper, Bart De Pauw -- a popular Austrian television host, and a couple of upwardly mobile journalists from the liberal media in Poland.

Though the disproportion of American to European reckoning is striking and speaks volumes of the old continent’s willingness to face its sexist demons, there’s also a lesson to be gleaned for the industry as a whole from the high number of sex abusers revealed in the media.

Like the politicians, entertainers and business leaders that it observes, the media is run on power structures highly susceptible to abuse. Now that this has been made visible, it can be fixed.

Here’s how it works. When an individual’s body, connections or skills translate into revenue a special sort of social contract emerges -- it’s called a P&L. Profit and Loss is a basic calculation of the money brought in and spent on a given business endeavor. The end value arrived at using simple math indicates how much money was made. When applied to star players, the math shows that if x brings in more money than he costs in salary and settlements with, say, abused women, he’s still good business.

This is the mechanism that broke when #MeToo began to reveal sexual bullies. Business ties were immediately severed because of tremendous loss of reputation costs for the brands affiliated with them.

Bringing their transgressions into the open changed the business value of talented assholes from golden egg laying chickens to hot potatoes.

This happened in Miramax when it dropped Weinstein but it also happened at ABC, CNN, NBC, The Paris Review, NPR, The New Republic, Vox Media, Gazeta Wyborcza and at publishers and broadcasters around the world.

Scale like this suggests a systemic problem inherent in how media businesses are built and run. And it could be the final kick in the proverbial bud that media needs to transform itself into a sustainable modern industry.

The warning signs have been clear and widely circulated for years. Reports from organizations like  The International Women in Media Foundation and the European Institute for Gender Equality as well as case studies presented by Women in News have shown that women in media have an unequal share in ownership and management positions which is proven to negatively impact coverage and business alike. Despite this, as the industry has scrambled to redefine itself in a digital world, diversity issues have repeatedly been moved off the table.

Perhaps now that the lopsided distribution of power between the genders has shown itself capable of criminal abuse, there will be more willingness to gut and rebuild. 

Because it isn’t just a reshuffling of bodies at the top that we need, it’s also an intentional approach to designing company culture and a flatter structure that gives more power to more people to bring more talent to play.

Multinational corporations and startups know this and have been implementing these practices for over a decade. Studies on how to motivate overachievers and models on how to manage teams of talented professionals are ready and waiting complete with testimonials from the most successful companies on earth that have implemented both. Which brings up an interesting question about why media has ignored these best practices for so long.

Though I have no proof other then my own experience, I would bet it has to do with the nature of the work. You need to be opinionated and sure of your smarts to make it in media.

Telling an audience what happened, distilling relevance and offering analysis creates the blissful illusion that we media people know best. As any teacher will tell you, know-it-alls are the hardest to teach.

So perhaps this colossal face palm will work out well for media. At the end of the day, changing how we work from obeying the boss in an oppressively competitive bully dominated environment, to creating together in diverse groups of ambitious enthusiasts may be the missing step to evolving media into a healthy future. And even if it’s not, it will sure be easier to work towards whatever the right solution is with fewer assholes around.

media, MeToo, women's issues

Eye-opening recommendations about Media from 2017
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