#MeToo and the media, five years on: how newsrooms have evolved

The articles on Harvey Weinstein and then the explosion of the #MeToo movement did not only provoke an avalanche of accusations against powerful personalities. They have also transformed the way the media covers power and sexual violence.

According to Ronan Farrow, whose investigation played a key role in bringing down Harvey Weinstein, “the will to report these kinds of crimes in the newsrooms is, I think, stronger than it was there. five or more years ago.

“I feel like we’re at a really promising time in terms of the willingness, on the part of both journalists and editors, to investigate untouchables and confront powerful institutions,” he told AFP.

Ronan Farrow’s damning revelations about Harvey Weinstein won him a Pulitzer Prize in 2018, which he shared with Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, two New York Times reporters who also investigated the subject.

After the first stories from both publications in October 2017, media coverage of #MeToo and sexual assault rose 52% in the year that followed, according to feminist organization Women’s Media Center.

“It has been a year in which the media and the truth itself have been under siege,” the center’s president said when the study was published. “By exposing horrific individual and institutional practices, we see an opportunity for new transparency and permanent change aimed at greater equality and power for women.”

After the Weinstein affair, allegations of criminal acts committed by high-profile figures, such as financier Jeffrey Epstein and singer R. Kelly, have been re-examined in the light of a new era, their accusers having been caught much more seriously.

For Scott Berkowitz, president and founder of the American organization for the fight against sexual violence RAINN, “one of the great consequences of #MeToo has been to show people that they are not alone, that it is something which happens to millions” of others.

RAINN runs the National Sexual Assault hotline and, according to Berkowitz, in the five years since #MeToo, calls have doubled.

“I think seeing more conversations about the issue helps you feel more comfortable talking about what you’ve been through yourself,” he said.

– “Sustained attention” –

Since RAINN’s inception almost 30 years ago, “there has been a steady improvement in the way the issue is covered,” Berkowitz told AFP.

“The media as a whole is now much, much more aware that there is a survivor behind the story” and therefore covers this “with empathy and understanding,” he says.

Moreover, explains Ronan Farrow, in recent years journalists have come to regard sexual violence as worthy of investigation as, for example, crimes within businesses or related to national security.

‘I think part of the problem that arose around this particular topic is that there was a kind of siloing of sexual violence,’ seen as a less polite issue than other types of investigations on crime,” he continued.

But although the press has clearly boosted the visibility of #MeToo and amplified the debate on sexual violence, limits remain.

So the conversation remains centered around the experiences of celebrities and white women, according to a 2019 study analyzing UK press coverage of #MeToo and conducted by Sara De Benedictis, Shani Orgad and Catherine Rottenberg.

Their analysis of the first six months of #MeToo coverage led them to conclude that the movement had helped to reinforce a version of feminism that “promotes white women, and more often white women with cultural, economic capital and consequent social”.

But, Berkowitz insists, the movement has pressured companies to do more “on education” and to “respond better to allegations of inappropriate behavior”, which is “one way concrete way to help ordinary people”.

He also acknowledged that although “attitudes and understanding have improved (…), it is not clear if this has already translated into a real reduction in sexual violence”.

This is why we must continue to pay “sustained attention” to information on abuse, he urges.

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#MeToo and the media, five years on: how newsrooms have evolved