Network for misconduct victims wants to make newsrooms safer

NEW YORK — A support network for victims of sexual misconduct in newsrooms has appointed an advisory board that includes CNN's Jake Tapper and PBS' Judy Woodruff and wants to fund a study to give news organizations specific ideas on keeping women safer.

The group Press Forward launched a website Tuesday and was hosting a panel discussion at the National Press Club in Washington that included Tapper, Woodruff and former ABC "Nightline" host Ted Koppel.

The group of sexual misconduct victims in journalism came together late last year following stories that led to the firings of well-known figures including Matt Lauer of "Today," Charlie Rose of "CBS This Morning" and NBC News' Mark Halperin. Now they want to go beyond providing each other support.

"There is so much that we want to do," said Dianna Burgess, a former "Nightline" producer who is one of the group's organizers. "We really want to work together with people within the industry and outside the industry to create safer environments for women. ... We sort of feel like the system failed in so many ways."

Press Forward's website defines sexual assault and offers advice to women for what they should do if they feel harassed. It also lists "rules of thumb" for people in dealing with the opposite sex at work.

Rule one: "Don't be a jerk."

Burgess said it was important for newsroom leaders not to feel threatened by Press Forward. "The only way to do this is to be collaborative," she said. "We want to work with newsrooms and victims and experts."

The study will let experts weigh in on the best steps news organizations can take to create safe environments, and the best way for newsroom managers to be trained. Even after the firings of prominent journalists for misconduct issues, Burgess said Press Forward members still heard regularly from young journalists concerned about what they'd experienced and their fear of retaliation if they reported anything.

"You have all of these amazing women who could have been the next Judy Woodruff or Katie Couric who left the business because of their experience," said Eleanor McManus, another Press Forward member. McManus, co-founder of a Washington public relations firm, was a 21-year-old job seeker at ABC News when she said Halperin tried to kiss her in a meeting his office. Burgess didn't want to discuss the misconduct issues she faced.

Other advisory board members include former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, whose harassment lawsuit against the late Fox News Channel chairman Roger Ailes led to his ouster; CNN "New Day" anchor Alisyn Camerota, who also accused Ailes of harassment (Ailes denied all allegations before he died); PBS "NewsHour" executive producer Sara Just; NPR anchor Mary Louise Kelly; former Al-Jazeera America executive Kate O'Brian; and employment attorney Ari Wilkenfeld.

Press Forward said it is working with the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank, the International Women's Media Foundation and the Time's Up group, among others.

"What we wanted to do is leave a lasting impression for generations to come and we think the time is right," Burgess said. "It's a tipping point."

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