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Media Adviser is an advice column from journalist and psychotherapist Rebekah Holt that offers insight on recurring media dramas and their related ethical dilemmas.

Q: My star reporter is out of control — booze, drugs, rude, crass — but he delivers the best scoops in the country. Since hiring him eight months ago our new website traffic has exploded and the ad people love me (and him). But I fear most of my female staff will walk out soon if I don’t lock him a room and sack him. How do I control him? — Agitated Editor

You do know a star is a massive ball of gas hurtling through space right? 

For a start please differentiate fact from fiction. What has he done wrong against fellow employees or in the course of his work? What is gossip and innuendo and what is quantifiable? 

Get your information and then if it stacks up (and it does sound like you already have a thick file of legitimate concerns) get your star and lock him in that room and explain he can go and get the scoops or he can be the scoop. But not both. 

He has to work out what he wants to do, and you have to decide how much you want to indulge him because if “most of” the women on staff despise him then you are going to want to check what your insurance is like. Increased website traffic won’t magically protect you from bad press and law suits. Unless you’re Rupert Murdoch. That you Rupert?

Anyway if he is as good as you say, then sit him down and explain that he has become a liability and you need him to not be. If there are booze/drug and behavioural issues then could your organisation offer to pay for some therapy? That would signal goodwill to the ball of gas.

What happens next in these situations is always the interesting bit.

Can he modify his behaviour? Will he listen or does he believe his own hype?

Is there a human inside said ball of gas? Will he just laugh and bugger off to a new newsroom that doesn’t know what they are getting? 

Because a pattern I have observed is that if someone doesn’t want to attend to their own demonstrable arsehole-ness, then they will run to the next job and the next job  becoming increasingly more destructive until eventually the industry realises they can’t afford to pay the price and the jobs get less and less impressive. Then stars move to Hong Kong or 5am talkback radio.

I know this feels like a conundrum but it’s not that complicated. If you knowingly keep someone on staff who is harassing or bullying an entire gender group, then you are going to be in a powerfully large pile of shit if you don’t respond correctly.

There’s a little role play game I play to focus the mind in these situations. I pretend that I’m on the stand in a courtroom being asked “Did you know the defendant was abusive to your other staff at the time?” Hot career tip: you don’t want the answer to be yes.

If he can’t or won’t change (right now), then ask him what kind of pizza he would like at his farewell drinks at the end of the week. 

You’ve got addicted to the clicks and your ad people have too. Fair enough, news is going through difficult times (yes kids, that’s a euphemism). If he stays and sorts himself out then its a win. If he gives you the finger as he leaves on his path to destruction and a longer resume then that’s a win too, because you haven’t let him take out innocent bystanders.

And don’t be shy telling the ad staff that you are managing serious risk here. They might have a spew about him walking, but do they want to have a go selling ads for a company that everyone knew was harbouring a bully or abuser and now has to spend a fortune on reputation management? That’s the very definition of a hard sell.

Here’s the other thing that happens when you manage the exit of someone who is making your other workers lives unbearable: they fucking love you for it. Staff who feel protected work harder for you and are emboldened by the example you set.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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