New Report Details Online Harassment and Digital Threats to Journalists

Newsroom executives need to better protect journalists from online abuse and harassment if they are to retain women and people of color in media, according to a Women’s Media Center report released today.

The report, “What Online Harassment Tells Us About Our Newsrooms: From Individuals to Institutions,” looks at online harassment and systemic bias in U.S. newsrooms. The report analyzes the most recent studies and findings regarding online hostility to journalists and concludes with recommendations for newsroom leaders, including committing to understanding the relationship of inclusivity, online harassment, and free speech in their newsrooms; acknowledging bias and engineering around it; and making journalists’ safety a company-wide priority.

The report examines the ever-expanding digital threats to journalists and includes insights gleaned from industry research and from three news leaders whom the nonprofit organization convened for a special symposium in New Orleans in October: Nicole Carroll, editor-in-chief, USA Today; Mitra Kalita, senior vice president, news, opinion, and programming, CNN Digital; and Raju Narisetti, who has overseen news operations at The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and Gizmodo Media Group and is founder of India’s Mint newspaper.

Studies consistently show that for women; ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities; as well as gender-nonconforming people, online harassment is more frequent and intense and likelier to result in self-censoring, according to the report. Journalists are usually responsible, as individuals, for “staying safe” online, and a long-standing journalistic tradition urging journalists to “grow a thicker skin” frequently inhibits genuine understanding of the dynamics of abuse. The report’s authors contend that this approach creates an imbalance that results in organizations persistently ill-prepared for the virulence of online hate and harassment.

According to the report, in addition to clearly influencing how journalists work, online harassment also affects organizations’ ability to recruit, retain, and reward diverse staff and cultivate inclusive media environments and leadership. In an environment that rewards visibility and audience engagement, women and minorities, who as a result of being targeted reduce their social media presence, may lower their chances of career advancement, according to the report.

The WMC report also includes separate interviews with Soraya Nadia McDonald, culture critic at The Undefeated; Jill Filipovic, contributing opinion writer for The New York Times and freelance writer; and Katelyn Burns, freelance writer for Rewire and Vox, who discuss their challenges in navigating an increasingly vitriolic online arena.

The report can be downloaded here.

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