We’ll recognize the harassment of journalists isn’t an individual problem

“The information ecosystem journalists operate in today necessitates an updated understanding of professional danger.”

Calls for newsroom leadership to step up and protect journalists are not new. But for far too long, the focus has been placed almost exclusively on the trauma that results from relatively tangible, physical risks to journalists. For example, newsroom leaders have considered how to keep journalists safe when in a conflict zone. And they’ve addressed journalists’ need for self-care after reporting on a natural disaster. Yet the information ecosystem journalists operate in today necessitates an updated understanding of professional danger — one that includes the risks of online harassment.

The harms resulting from online abuse are very real. In some cases, online threats lead to offline, physical attacks. Yet, as a recent study by UNESCO found, the “slow burn” of lower but nearly constant levels of abuse has particularly insidious effects. PTSD, depression, and anxiety plague journalists and threaten to drive them out of the newsroom.

These impacts are particularly acute for women, BIPOC, and LGBTQIA+ journalists. UNESCO reports that “Black, Indigenous, Jewish, Arab and lesbian women journalists…experienced both the highest rates and most severe impacts of online violence.” And a survey by the International Women’s Media Foundation and Trollbusters found that nearly one-third of female-identifying journalists have considered leaving the profession due to online abuse and threats.

Unless something changes, these reporters will continue to leave the profession in droves.

Given the fast pace and scale of much of the abuse journalists face online, they need a trustworthy, rapid response system that offers a trauma-informed approach that takes their needs seriously. Such a system must be responsive and flexible, offering journalists monitoring tools, support from peers, and connection to resources for mental health needs.

The good news? We are working on it. With the support of the NSF Convergence Accelerator program, our team has partnered with the folks at the Poynter Institute/Politifact and Hollaback! to develop just such a system.

The challenge? We need newsrooms to buy in. We need editors and managers to participate and engage. This is not a reporter-level problem; it is a professional crisis. And it will require institutional investment. If your newsroom is up to the task, please reach out.

Kathleen Searles is an associate professor of political communication at Louisiana State University. Rebekah Tromble is director of the Institute for Data, Democracy & Politics at George Washington University.

Calls for newsroom leadership to step up and protect journalists are not new. But for far too long, the focus has been placed almost exclusively on the trauma that results from relatively tangible, physical risks to journalists. For example, newsroom leaders have considered how to keep journalists safe when in a conflict zone. And they’ve addressed journalists’ need for self-care after reporting on a natural disaster. Yet the information ecosystem journalists operate in today necessitates an updated understanding of professional danger — one that includes the risks of online harassment.

The harms resulting from online abuse are very real. In some cases, online threats lead to offline, physical attacks. Yet, as a recent study by UNESCO found, the “slow burn” of lower but nearly constant levels of abuse has particularly insidious effects. PTSD, depression, and anxiety plague journalists and threaten to drive them out of the newsroom.

These impacts are particularly acute for women, BIPOC, and LGBTQIA+ journalists. UNESCO reports that “Black, Indigenous, Jewish, Arab and lesbian women journalists…experienced both the highest rates and most severe impacts of online violence.” And a survey by the International Women’s Media Foundation and Trollbusters found that nearly one-third of female-identifying journalists have considered leaving the profession due to online abuse and threats.

Unless something changes, these reporters will continue to leave the profession in droves.

Given the fast pace and scale of much of the abuse journalists face online, they need a trustworthy, rapid response system that offers a trauma-informed approach that takes their needs seriously. Such a system must be responsive and flexible, offering journalists monitoring tools, support from peers, and connection to resources for mental health needs.

The good news? We are working on it. With the support of the NSF Convergence Accelerator program, our team has partnered with the folks at the Poynter Institute/Politifact and Hollaback! to develop just such a system.

The challenge? We need newsrooms to buy in. We need editors and managers to participate and engage. This is not a reporter-level problem; it is a professional crisis. And it will require institutional investment. If your newsroom is up to the task, please reach out.

Kathleen Searles is an associate professor of political communication at Louisiana State University. Rebekah Tromble is director of the Institute for Data, Democracy & Politics at George Washington University.

Victor Pickard

Doris Truong

Christina Shih

Mario García

Jody Brannon

Laxmi Parthasarathy

Matt Karolian

Mary Walter-Brown

Wilson Liévano

Megan McCarthy

James Green

David Cohn

Paul Cheung

Christoph Mergerson

j. Siguru Wahutu

Meena Thiruvengadam

Matt DeRienzo

S. Mitra Kalita

Matthew Pressman

Parker Molloy

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

Michael W. Wagner

Sam Guzik

Gordon Crovitz

Cristina Tardáguila

Joanne McNeil

Alice Antheaume

Sarah Stonbely

Julia Munslow

A.J. Bauer

Rachel Glickhouse

Joe Amditis

Chicas Poderosas

Joy Mayer

Candace Amos

Simon Allison

Izabella Kaminska

Eric Nuzum

Catalina Albeanu

Kathleen Searles & Rebekah Trumble

Jessica Clark

Jim Friedlich

Kendra Pierre-Louis

Anita Varma

Francesco Zaffarano

Daniel Eilemberg

Anika Anand

Kerri Hoffman

Errin Haines

Amy Schmitz Weiss

Ariel Zirulnick

Shalabh Upadhyay

Tom Trewinnard

Ståle Grut

Raney Aronson-Rath

Jennifer Coogan

Stefanie Murray

Whitney Phillips

Jesenia De Moya Correa

John Davidow

Brian Moritz

Cindy Royal

Juleyka Lantigua

Mandy Jenkins

Amara Aguilar

Millie Tran

Don Day

Andrew Freedman

Cherian George

Tony Baranowski

Julia Angwin

Chase Davis

Joni Deutsch

Larry Ryckman

Jennifer Brandel

Anthony Nadler

Gonzalo del Peon

Mike Rispoli

Richard Tofel

Simon Galperin

Jonas Kaiser

Gabe Schneider

Robert Hernandez

Joshua P. Darr

Zizi Papacharissi

AX Mina

Melody Kramer

Janelle Salanga

Nikki Usher

Jesse Holcomb

David Skok

Sarah Marshall

Kristen Jeffers

Burt Herman

Stephen Fowler

Moreno Cruz Osório

Natalia Viana

Shannon McGregor & Carolyn Schmitt

Tamar Charney

Kristen Muller