When Mark Forbes, until recently editor-in-chief of The Age, resigned in the wake of two sexual harassment complaints, cross-town rival the Herald Sun was notably muted in its coverage. Online it ran copy from The Australian. In the paper, it didn’t only not gloat — it barely reported on it at all.
Perhaps that’s because earlier this year, the Herald Sun dealt with a sexual harassment scandal of its own. Crikey can exclusively reveal that in February, Shane Burke, veteran night editor at the Herald Sun, quietly resigned from the paper after several women in the newsroom made complaints claiming that he had propositioned them during work hours. News Corp had conducted an official investigation into the complaints.
Burke’s resignation became the talk of the newsroom at the Herald Sun‘s Southbank headquarters after Forbes resigned from The Age on Monday.
At the Herald Sun, sources said at least some of the harassment complained of was alleged to have occurred while Burke was acting editor of the paper, when editor Damon Johnston was away. A veteran staffer at the Herald Sun, Burke was seen as a safe pair of hands, and given a lot of responsibility in the newsroom. A team of designers, art directors and subeditors reported directly to him. He had survived an earlier harassment scandal, when in 2008 he was temporarily suspended and received counselling for similar incidents.
The factors surrounding his resignation in February are widely known in the Herald Sun newsroom.
During his three and a half decades at News Corp, Burke held many of the most influential positions at the Herald Sun. After a stint as a US correspondent, he became associate editor in 1996, and over the next 20 years rose becoming night editor at the Herald Sun. On his LinkedIn account, he describes his former role as having made him “number 2 to the editor” — an assessment newsroom sources said was accurate.
Herald Sun sources say Burke effectively decided what ran on the front of the paper on a day-to-day basis, giving him a position of great authority.
Virtually all of the Herald Sun‘s top editorial positions are held by men — a situation that is only marginally better at The Age. Female News Corp reporters describe it as a very blokey newsroom, where the quickest way to success is to fit in as “one of the guys”. Being one of the guys certainly does not involve filing sexual harassment complaints. For this reason, Burke’s sudden resignation aroused a great deal of curiosity in the newsroom, leading at least some of this story being widely known inside the company.
Crikey contacted News Corp yesterday afternoon giving the company a chance to respond on the major facts of this story. The company’s only response was: “Shane Burke resigned from the Herald Sun in early 2016. We do not comment on internal staff matters.”
Attempts to reach Burke by phone and online were unsuccessful.