Six years of #MeToo reporting: what we've learnt

Rosamund Urwin, Media Editor, Sunday Times
28th February 2024
13:00 - 14:00

The speaker 

Rosamund Urwin, media editor at The Sunday Times behind the Russell Brand scoop, reflects on six years of reporting since the #MeToo movement gained traction in 2017. What lessons have we learnt about how we investigate and report these stories, and the backlash that ensues?

The video

Four takeaways from the talk and the discussion 

1. Victims should be approached with care. When reporting on stories of sexual violence, victims are not just victims, but also sources. Approaching them and asking them to relive trauma should be handled delicately and empathically by reporters. Victims have often told the same story over and over again to other publications with no final result so Urwin says it is also important to help victims manage expectations when it comes to the story, as sometimes it will take years for the investigation to be completed.  

“Maybe I get everybody's hopes up, and it doesn't end up going anywhere again, and that can actually be incredibly upsetting for victims,” says Urwin. “I think you've just got to be incredibly persistent and dogged.”

2. Journalists should know their own limits too. Urwin says that part of the care approach towards victims is also being aware that journalists are journalists, not mental health professionals. “You have to kind of be aware of your limitations because I'm not a trained counsellor so while I want to help these women get their stories into the world, what I'm offering them is a limited thing and I don't know how they'll feel at the end of it,” she explains. 

While Urwin will keep in touch with victims once a story has been published, she acknowledges that it is difficult for individuals to provide this aftercare. She believes, however, that journalists should be transparent and upfront about not being able to provide duty of care beyond publication. 

3. Beware of the trolls. Stories related to accusations of sexual violence often come with rabid trolling from people disparaging the victim and the reporter. Urwin says it is good to manage expectations once a story is published, being aware that online abuse might follow, but also not being afraid to fight back. She mentioned that she once called up the boss of someone online who threatened her with violence. “Most of the vile things said online, they wouldn't actually say it to your face,” she said. “I just remember that this doesn't. mean that they'd say it to my face.”

4. It is more than just ‘he said, she said’. Reporting these sorts of stories requires a high standard of proof. Even if allegations are so-called ‘open secrets’, it comes with many challenges and considerations. “Most companies have an incredibly high standard of proof,” Urwin said. “It is sometimes possible that there are witnesses, but it is incredibly difficult to verify these stories.” Urwin highlighted that it requires a lot of verification, input from editors, and lawyers to get these stories published, not simply the testimony of an alleged victim. 

The bottom line 

When reporting stories of sexual violence, Urwin emphasized the need for careful and empathic approaches towards victims, managing their expectations and being present. She highlights the importance of journalists knowing their limits, acknowledging the aftercare limitations, and transparently communicating their inability to provide extended support, as well as their ability to engage with their audience online. 

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