The credibility of news media has been at the centre of news lately, and hostilities directed at journalists have increased in lock-step with the current political climate. While most journalists expect push-back for stories now and again, there are countless examples of intimidation, threats and abusive comments used to try and silence the voices of female journalists in particular.
Last year, Chicago sports journalists Julie DiCaro and Sarah Spain had their male colleagues read mean tweets that the pair had received in a video that has over 3.8 million views. More recently, the Globe and Mail’s Carrie Tait has been replying to tweets from anonymous users who hurl hurtful profanities at females, inviting them to go on record - using their real names - to explain their vulgar choice of words.
On March 7th, The Canadian Journalism Foundation hosted a ‘J-TALK’ about the Harassment of Women in Media. A panel moderated by Piya Chattopadhyay, host of CBC Radio’s Out in the Open, included Heather Mallick, columnist at the Toronto Star, Manisha Krishnan, VICE.com Canada’s senior writer, and Janet McFarland, business reporter at The Globe and Mail.
For International Women’s Day, here are a few takeaways from the event:
Harassment linked to inequality issues
Each panelist recalled some of their experiences of harassment, which varied from nuisances to threats at a criminal level. The common thread through each panelist’s experiences was the subject matter that triggered the online harassment. Mallick marked her appearance on the Bill O’Reilly show in 2005 as the starting point of her harassment, which has isolated her as a journalist. McFarland, who writes primarily about securities regulation and corporate governance, only receives abusive comments when she writes on women’s issues. Similarly, Krishnan received “relentless harassment” once she started covering issues around race and inequality at VICE.
To engage, or not engage?
When asked by Chattopadhyay whether they read or engage in abusive comments online, Mallick and McFarland said they try to avoid negative reader comments, while Krishnan will sometimes “burn” her troll with a witty comeback. “Seeing the ‘white male fragility’ online sometimes gives me ideas for columns,” she said. Like Tait, Krishnan often seeks to interview her trolls about their decision to engage in abusive rhetoric. When asked whether staying silent online helped or harmed the cause, Mallick responded, “We don’t always know how to react because we’re always told to be nice. We might need to change that.”
How can news organizations help combat the problem?
When it comes to newsroom policies that combat online abuse, not all processes are clear. VICE asks its employees to alert editors of any harassment and to document it with screenshots, while other panelists were largely unaware what policies were in place for them. “A lot of the harassment women face online isn’t criminal, but certainly takes its toll on them,” said Chattopadhyay. “For HR policies to kick in though – things have to hit a certain level. Common harassment tends to occur in murky territory.” The ask is very simple for Mallick and McFarland, “just listen to me.” “Having an editor say, ‘I see you’ can help and costs the company nothing,” said Krishnan.
We invite you to view the full event here.