By Carol Perkins
Laura Cicalo knows a lot about the world of journalism. She began her journalism career in 1983 at The Daily Californian in El Cajon. She then started working at the San Diego Tribune in August 1987, and she rose through the editorial ranks from assistant news editor to her appointment as managing editor of the Union-Tribune in 2015.
The La Mesa-El Cajon branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) will host Cicalo at its March general meeting, where she will address issues that face our society — and the world of journalism specifically — in the aftermath of the sexual harassment allegations that have surfaced over the past year. Her presentation, titled “Media Ethics in the #MeToo Era,” will be held March 10 at 10 a.m. in the Grossmont Health Care Center Auditorium, 9001 Wakarusa Ave. in La Mesa.
Cicalo answered a few questions that might frame a better understanding of this topic. Here are her responses:
Q: Why now? Why did a movement not take hold in the aftermath of Anita Hill’s televised testimony in the 1991 Senate Confirmation Hearings for Clarence Thomas’s appointment to the Supreme Court? She accused him of sexual harassment/misconduct in the workplace more than 25 years ago.
I think it was really a confluence of factors. While Anita Hill’s testimony certainly started a conversation, it was a conversation that — for the most part — ended up turning back on her. She was vilified in some quarters and doubted in many others. People questioned her motives and her mental health. In many ways, I think she served as a warning to other women of what can happen when you come forward and speak up. That said, she gave voice to the experiences of countless women who may not have had a name for what had happened to them or what they observed in the workplace.
While it is still difficult for victims of sexual harassment to come forward, I think they are more likely to be believed in 2018 than they were in 1991. It’s a different era with far more options available to tell one’s story. The past several months have shown the cumulative effect of people speaking out – inspiring and emboldening others to join the chorus of those calling out harassers. While to many it may seem that this movement came out of nowhere, it really was decades in the making.
Q: In short, how do you describe “media ethics in the #MeToo era”?
It’s a challenging time, for a variety of reasons, but the principles of truth-telling, fairness, accountability and transparency apply to harassment stories just as they do to other types of stories. We wrestle with the same questions that we face in other complicated and consequential stories: How do we treat anonymous sources? How do we corroborate information from sources? How do we report stories in which subjects are unwilling to talk? How do we make sure all sides are presented fairly? Ethical principles provide both a foundation and a roadmap for approaching our work.
Q: Does print journalism have a unique role to play in this era of immediate electronic news delivery?
I believe that journalism has a unique role to play, regardless of the platform or method of delivery. Thorough, fair and accurate reporting is critical to understanding the important issues of the day, be it sexual harassment, immigration or the federal budget.
— Carol Ortman Perkins is chair of the La Mesa-El Cajon branch of the American Association of University Women’s Women in History committee.