In late 2017, as the #MeToo movement exposing workplace sexual abuse gathered pace, New York Public Radio (NYPR) station WNYC was rocked by its own scandal. Namely, that former host John Hockenberry had bullied and sexually harassed numerous colleagues over the past decade. Days later, similar accusations were leveled at two more male veteran broadcasters, with further stories about other individuals filtering through. According to multiple employees, senior management knew of some complaints yet failed to take meaningful action. However, many other incidents had gone unreported, largely because the (mostly young female) victims feared for their jobs, believed that HR was ineffectual and presenters ‘untouchable’. For an avowedly progressive organisation that espoused values such as equality, inclusivity and diversity, it was a particularly bad look.
CEO Laura Walker now found herself in the spotlight – especially at her own station. Staff, listeners, sponsors and donors wanted to know what she knew and when, and how she proposed to address the problem. Over the past two decades, Walker had taken two small city-owned radio stations and created a non-profit media network. But as she acknowledged, growth and content development had taken focus off WNYC’s internal health. As she committed to turning things around, insiders and observers wondered whether she would, or should, be able to change a damaging and exploitative culture that had taken root underneath her.
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