Credit: Photo by Fajrina Adella on Unsplash

Journalists are disconnecting from social media platforms, despite their importance for discovering audiences, amplifying news content and facilitating investigations.

Reasons for this range from the burnout of being online so often, to extensive online abuse particularly towards women journalists, to high-profile cases of journalists being fired for violating social media policies. Are journalists feeling the ‘fear of missing out’ by unplugging from platforms? Quite the opposite.

"It's a little bit more of what people have called the 'jomo' - the joy of missing out," says Valérie Bélair-Gagnon, the director of undergraduate studies at the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and the co-author of the book, The Paradox of Connection, which considers how a hyper-connected digital media landscape is impacting journalists.

Speaking on an episode of the Journalism.co.uk podcast, she adds: "People are finding that joy or contentment of missing out on online activities by prioritising their own self-care. So it allows them to be more authentic and truly do what they value."

Just as with the evidence around news avoidance amongst audiences, disconnection amongst journalists is often a healthy reaction to being overloaded with information and inundated by digital interactions.

Lines between personal and professional lives on social media are getting more and more blurred. In the case of one journalist interviewed for the book, they created a social media account to counter anti-vaccination arguments during the covid-19 pandemic, despite receiving no financial support or organisational backing.

It speaks to a prominent theme that journalists are required to be more connected and put more of their lives on display online, but find themselves often short of support from their employers.

Newsrooms have tended to provide individualised solutions here, like sending people to HR, giving them time off, or providing an online video workshop to attend. Others have been told to access support circles with people just as afflicted as they are.

"They felt that they were pretty much left on their own," she continues. "Some people [told them to] go do yoga. These are all individual efforts that don't really have a long-term impact, because when they come back to work, they still come up against the same issues."

Better are group discussions with their colleagues and peers, with the power to inform and create long-term, tailored, inclusive policies. ]

The trouble is that social media is so fast-changing, they need to be futureproof. For this reason, think more about broader issues like workload, digital safety, physical threats or harassment that cross across all platforms. This is also not specifically limited to social media policies.

"Whenever you have a new technology coming up, you can ask yourself a couple of questions," explains Bélair-Gagnon.

"Who would the introduction of this new digital technology or platform impact the most? What kind of impact does it have? Is it an impact on workload, digital safety, physical threats, harassment, and so on.

"Then ask yourself, what systems should be there to support the journalists that will be most impacted by this new technology?

"In the early days of social media, this wasn't really a question that media organisation [asked] because they were kind of so focused on the potential for engagement with social media."

She also warns that not asking these types of questions will ultimately impact hiring and retention, because the newest wave of Gen Z recruits are more savvy to work-life balance and will not be as willing to let personal boundaries be crossed.

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