Harassment of journalists in the United States

The study “Harassment’s Toll on Democracy: The Effects of Harassment Towards US Journalists” by Kaitlin C. Miller from University of Alabama was about the US journalists’ experiences of harassment in their work and its effect on their work and emotions. The study consisted of both a survey and interviews. More than 500 journalists were surveyed and 32 were interviewed for the study. 

It is known from previous studies on the matter that journalists are targets of various forms of harassment due to their critical role in society. This harassment has a two-fold effect: it can affect journalists as individuals and the work they produce. Verbal harassment from outsiders is linked to the desire to quit one’s job and to burnout.

Typically, when making sense of the harassment, the relation the victim has with the perpetrator has an effect on how it is perceived. Negative emotions tend to be suppressed more when there is no personal relationship. However, there are suggestions from other studies that due to the level of suppression required, the outsider harassment may even be more likely to cause burnout.

The quantitative survey was conducted after the interviews and was based on the findings of the interviews.. It was limited to local broadcast and print journalists due to their private funding – it was assumed that the type of funding may affect the experience – and due to the prevalence of these media in the United States. 20 interviewees worked in print and 12 in broadcast, with half identifying as men and half as women.

For the survey, the sample consisted of 52 television news markets in the US, which is one quarter of the total. This sample was representative of the print and broadcast journalists in the US. The journalists surveyed were found from the websites contact information section. A total of 3567 email addresses were collected, and the response rate being 14,3 %, 509 completed the survey.

There were three groups of the types of harassment that journalists face. First, incivility and disruptive harassment, second, sexual harassment, and third, personally attacking harassment. The survey used 16 measures to probe these. 

The harassment did affect the workplace routines. Specifically, younger and women journalists were exhibited changes in workplace behaviors when affected by sexual harassment and incivility harassment. The workplace behaviors surveyed included considering quitting the job or journalism altogether, or changing the angle of the story. 

It was found out that harassment did indeed influence the affect-driven behaviors and through that, the journalists’ judgement. Many journalists, 49%, were less active on social media due to the harassment they faced there, and 24% turned off messaging. 

As alluded, age was a strong predictor for changing behaviors in response to harassment. Nevertheless, overall job satisfaction for journalists remained quite high. An editor mentioned that safety takes precedence in the work, and an interviewee stressed the importance of having support from colleagues and the newsroom in harassment cases. 

Based on the results, the author suggests that newsroom supervisors should establish procedures for situations where journalists feel unsafe or when harassment has already occurred. The journalists should be empowered to know where to report such incidents and how to proceed. 

The research does contribute to Affective Events Theory. It shows that affective events can significantly impact the work one does, particularly when the event is seen as being unique to one’s work. Thus, scholars researching the matter should particularly seek to mitigate such “work hassles”.

It is also worrying that the total toll for journalists, even more so for women journalists and journalists of color, is so high. 50% of women journalists have avoided interviewing someone due to the danger of harassment, and 20% of men. It can no longer be ignored, as 25% of women and 24% of men consider leaving journalism completely due to it. Journalism educators and newsroom supervisors should take note and present measures.

The study “Harassment’s Toll on Democracy: The Effects of Harassment Towards US Journalists” by Kaitlin C. Miller is in Journalism Practice. (free abstract).

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