Newsrooms have a duty of care to support staff from online violence. For too long, journalists have endured constant harassment, resulting in serious implications for press freedom and creating a culture of silence that results in inadequate support for both staff and freelancers.  

Since 2020, the IWMF has worked with more than 40 newsrooms around the world to improve their policies and procedures around online violence. This week, we’re sharing some lessons-learned from newsroom leaders and a step-by-step plan to tackle online violence from our resource, “A Guide to Protecting Newsrooms and Journalists Against Online Violence.”

The anxiety caused by online violence affects journalists far beyond those who have been attacked,” says Danny Gawlowski, assistant managing editor of the Seattle Times.”Before doing this work, I did not fully understand how concerned our newsroom staff was about how newsroom leadership would respond if they were attacked and whether they would be supported. Creating a plan and being transparent about that plan ending up being a huge relief to staff.”                

“Push back on online violence by changing workflows,” said Patrick Boehler, leader of the digital strategy at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “There are often alternative ways to communicate with audiences that don’t expose individuals to online abuse. Newsrooms can structure conversations with the public differently to make them more constructive.”  

Newsrooms can better support their journalists by accessing professional help that enables them to plan ahead and to make informed decisions about how to deal with the abuse and what happens after the abuse has been documented,” said Mia Malan, editor-in-chief and executive director at Bhekisisa, a public health newsroom based in South Africa “What would an appropriate response look like and what measures should be put in place to provide peer support once the online abuse has occurred. It was useful for us to look at what other newsrooms are doing, but we were shocked to find out how few newsrooms have any policies in place to deal with online abuse. Newsrooms should clearly define what constitutes trauma and how to support journalists who may need to go through mental health counseling.”

BUILD A PLAN

1️⃣ Raise awareness of online violence. Online abuse disproportionately affects women and diverse journalists who often do not hold upper management positions and may be reluctant to report harassment. As a result, management may be unaware of the damage online attacks are doing both to staff and to the media outlet. By raising awareness of what online violence is and how it impacts staff and press freedom, the newsroom will be in a better place to protect against it.

2️⃣ Share a staff survey. An anonymous survey can help management to understand the scale of the problem, which allows the newsroom to create the policies needed to address the issue and barriers to supporting staff.

3️⃣ Help staff protect data by sharing a checklist. Checklists can be a useful way to help staff better protect their online data. Not only do they provide employees with clear steps on what to do, but they also show how staff can start to protect personal information

4️⃣ Carry out risk assessments. An assessment document can help mitigate risk. Upon completion of the risk assessment, journalists will know what steps they need to take to secure their online data and protect their accounts, as well as who in the newsrooms should be notified after abuse.

5️⃣ Create a reporting and escalation policy. Reporting and escalation policies give clarity to both managers and journalists on what to do and who to speak to should there be a serious incident of online harassment. The policy should state clearly what types of abuse a journalist should report, who to report the abuse to and what will happen once it has been reported.

DIG DEEPER

  • Join IWMF’s News Safety Cohort! This is a new opportunity to help international newsrooms create policies for protecting journalists online. Building on our existing training model, this new international support network will receive customized training in addition to peer networking, access to new resources and opportunities for 1:1 consultations. The deadline for the first cohort is April 17. The program is free for newsrooms, and the application takes about 5 minutes.
  • A Guide to Protecting Newsrooms and Journalists Against Online Violence contains a step-by-step process to help newsrooms mitigate risk, raise awareness, develop policies and issue statements of support on behalf of journalists. 

Share with your network

You also might be interested in:

  • This is a column on how to measure well-being for yourself and your organization. By the end, you’ll have a clear direction and quantitative ways to chart a healthy path forward for your journalists.

  • Experts define moral injury as the suffering that comes from witnessing, perpetrating or failing to prevent events that violate one’s own deeply held moral beliefs and values. It is not classified as a mental illness, but it can lead to depression, substance abuse or burnout, which is one reason news managers need to understand the phenomenon of moral injury — and ways to address it or head it off.

  • For many newsrooms, changing the systems that protect unhealthy culture could be a few sustained decisions away from reality.