In October of this year, UK news group Reach plc introduced an industry-first role, hiring Dr Rebecca Whittington as its online safety editor.
Whittington, former head of news at Yorkshire Post, spent the last seven years in academia as a lecturer and course leader at Leeds Trinity University, where she gained her PhD exploring the impact of digital tools on news production and journalistic identity at local newspapers in the UK.
Much has changed during that time in the news industry, from the pace of publishing to the platforms news organisations are using. But one thing has remained the same: journalists are still abused and harassed for doing their job.
What does it say about the state of play that such a position is even necessary? Internally, Reach already knows that half of its journalists encounter online abuse, and 85 per cent of that cohort attribute that to the work they publish. But Reach is a large organisation, and the nature of abuse differs for journalists working on national titles like OK Magazine or The Daily Mirror and regional titles like Liverpool Echo or the Manchester Evening News.
In this episode of the Journalism.co.uk podcast, Whittington discusses her new position in which she will seek to better understand what journalists of all backgrounds are up against online. She will also lead a public anti-abuse campaign for online audiences. There are also external solutions being mooted by the UK government's Online Safety Bill, but this will take time and news organisations must find collaborative solutions in the meantime.
Ignoring the issue will only be to the detriment of the news industry; as talent will leave or avoid journalism altogether, and journalists will shy away from using online spaces to their fullest potential.
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