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April 9, 2021, noon

The Front Page, 4/9: Newsrooms still haven’t figured out what to do when their journalists are harassed online

Plus: The need for more public editors, Latinx representation in newsrooms, and “a letter to PBS from viewers like us.”

Editor’s note: The Front Page is a biweekly newsletter from The Objective, a publication that offers reporting, first-person commentary, and reported essays on how journalism has misrepresented or excluded specific communities in coverage, as well as how newsrooms have treated staff from those communities. We happily share each issue with Nieman Lab readers.

Female journalists bear the brunt of online harassment. The Washington Post has rescinded a ban that prohibited reporter Felicia Sonmez from covering sexual assault.


Late last month, Sonmez revealed that the ban was put in place after she publicly detailed her sexual assault in 2018. After disclosing this information, Sonmez was a target for harassment, and concerns for her safety escalated significantly when she tweeted about sexual assault allegations against Kobe Bryant on the day of his death .

Criticism of the Post’s social media policy followed Sonmez’s tweet, but examinations into how the company handled the harassment of an employee were far less common. Now, more than a year later, questions about the level of security that organizations owe their employeesspecifically women, from online and in-person harassment are coming to the forefront.

Last week, Glenn Greenwald criticized a story by Brenna Smith, an investigations intern at USA Today (her first for the outlet), effectively siccing his fanbase on the journalist. New York Times journalists Rachel Abrams and Taylor Lorenz received public support from their paper after One America News and Tucker Carlson urged viewers to target the reporters. In February, the Washington Post stood with reporter Seung Min Kim after “a flood of racist, sexist and ill-informed attacks.”

Steven Ginsberg, the Post editor who also condemned attacks against Kim in a Vanity Fair article, apparently did not support Sonmez when she “was doxxed and had to leave [her] home.”

When patrolling their staffers’ tweets, likes, and replies, how do news organizations miss so many instances of harassment, doxxing, and physical threats? And if they see it, why aren’t they doing anything about it?

There are, in fact, ways to do so: Defector Media has created policies to protect employees from online harassment. “In many ways, it’s just the bare minimum,” said staff writer Kelsey McKinney.

Contextualizing the January 6 Capitol riots. For journalists like Jake Tapper, Wolf Blitzer, and Martha Raddatz, the way to articulate the severity of the insurrection was to compare the violence done by the majority-white, pro-Trump group to violence in Baghdad, Bogotá, and Kabul.

This type of “othering,” Janelle Salanga and Siona Peterous report, is linked to denial about the relationship between American imperialism and white supremacist ideology and how that relationship affects people of color in the U.S.

But U.S. newsrooms can take steps toward rectifying their blind spots.

For The Objective, Salanga and Peterous break down the reporting failures surrounding the Capitol insurrection and what it would mean for newsrooms to contextualize their stories within not just the immediate news cycle, but the broader scope of American history. You can read more here.

Chicago Tribune columnist: “It’s not too early to stop romanticizing and infantilizing 13-year-olds.”

It’s impossible to know what was going through Tribune columnist Eric Zorn’s head as he wrote the most atrocious article to come out of the Tribune’s opinion section in recent memory. As the Tribune faces a hedge fund takeover, Zorn wrote “Let’s wait before turning slain 13-year-old Adam Toledo into a martyr”.

Related: Editorial boards that look nothing like their cities shouldn’t speak for them.

A bit more media.

  • USA Today fires Hemal Jhaveri. “This is not about bias … It’s about challenging whiteness and being punished for it.” In her eight years with USA Today, the organization never offered formal support or protection from harassment, says former editor Hemal Jhaveri. But Jhaveri was fired after she “sent a tweet responding to the fact that mass shooters are most likely to be white men” —  a tweet she now calls “a careless error of judgment” and deleted. Jhaveri wrote on Medium about what happened when her tweet was picked up by the alt-right.

    USA Today, like so many other newsrooms, has been vocal about trumpeting its commitment to diversity, equality and inclusion. And yet, doing the actual work of diversity, equality and inclusion necessitates engaging with complicated structural issues that should make white audiences uncomfortable. In this case, after I made one mistake, the company contradicted their commitment to DEI and wilted upon criticism.

  • Where education journalism falls short. For The Grade, Amber C. Walkerwrites that education journalism fails to deliver on anti-racist policies: “Bringing on more journalists of color still won’t make newsrooms more anti-racist unless leadership grows more willing to listen to, trust, and yield power to Black reporters.” In order for diversity trainings and hiring promises to make a difference, white newsroom leaders must surrender some of their power.
  • Patricia Escárcega leaves The Los Angeles Times. Two years ago after becoming the Los Angeles Times’ first Latinx restaurant critic, Patricia Escárcegahas left the paper. Last year, Escárcega filed, and lost, a pay discrimination complaint against the Times after learning her white, male co-critic was being paid significantly more. The paper’s Guild says it “will continue to fight against the shocking shortfall of Latino representation in a newsroom.”
  • We need more public editors. The “ongoing cycle of harm” signals a need for the resurgence of public editors, writesTauhid Chappell. More specifically, the Temple University audit of the Philadelphia Inquirer shows that the newsroom’s internal policies aren’t doing enough to protect Black employees from harm. With his column at Generocity, Chappell intends to “revitalize the role and mission of the public editor.”
  • Denver journalist alleges discrimination at 9News. Lori Lizzaraga is the third on-air Latina journalist let go by KUSA in under a year — and that’s just one example of the station’s discriminatory behavior, she saysNAHJ leadership, as well as a coalition of state and local elected officials, met with TEGNA management and 9News, respectively, to discuss Lizarraga’s piece and the use of the word “illegal” in immigration coverage, and will meet with station management again later this month to evaluate “diversity and inclusion initiatives and a proposed system to hold newsroom leadership accountable.”
  • Ken Burns letter. More than 100 documentary filmmakers have signed a letter to PBS executives drawing attention to the network’s stalwart support of Ken Burns and other white creators. The letter is a response to an essay written by Grace Lee, who also took note of PBS’ role in upholding inequalities by bankrolling Burns. The network reportedly rejected claims that a disproportionate amount of time and money have been granted to the filmmaker.
  • Empowerment Avenue Writer’s Cohort. Created by Rahsaan “New York” Thomas and Emily Nonko in 2020, Empowerment Avenue connects 30 incarcerated writers with 30 editors, producers, and reporters at mainstream outlets. Nonko told Columbia Journalism Review she estimates writers will be placed in 50 outlets by the end of the year, earning “a combined $15,000 to $20,000.”
  • “We appreciate your patience.” In a letter published Wednesday, Danielle Kwateng announced she is the new executive editor of Teen Vogue. In the announcement, which came after weeks of social media silence from the magazine, Kwateng stated that the publication “plan[s] to evolve” with its audience, though many readers are waiting for the Howard alum to respond to racist tweets made by a staffer and share concrete plans to ensure the proposed evolution. Condé Nast has not appointed a new editor-in-chief.
  • Nika Soon-Shiong “welcome addition” to LA Times newsroom. Though not on the masthead, the daughter of Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong has become a “familiar presence” in the newsroom, including in conversations “around race, policing, and institutional injustices.” Nika Soon-Shiong told the Daily Beast she is “continuously learning about how representation in mass media articulates entrenched biases at the same time as it can dismantle them.”

What’s happening.

  • April 9: Engagement Journalism at the Newmark J-School. This multi-session event includes three panels and “speed networking.” Topics include audience engagement, movement journalism, and methods for engaging with diverse communities.
  • April 10: Community Journalism Training: Racial and Social Justice. The UpTake hosts this training, which focuses on “the racial and social justice (and injustice) implications of community journalism.” Resources will be available before the meeting.
  • April 15: The Black Social Media Dilemma: The Paradoxes of Black Digital Life, featuring University of Texas at Austin professor S. Craig Watkins. This event is the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s 2021 M. Holly McGranahan Lecture.
  • April 16: The Local Legal Initiative: Legal support for Indigenous journalists. Attorneys from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press will join this webinar — part of the Native American Journalists Association’s Roundtable series — to share legal resources for Indigenous journalists.
  • April 21: The Words We Use to Cover Criminal Justice, Jails and Prisons. The Marshall Project is partnering with Poynter to offer this free training, which is “designed for journalists working in any medium in any role.”
  • Photo by Grianghraf on Unsplash.

    POSTED     April 9, 2021, noon
    PART OF A SERIES     The Objective
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