From the Editor: Ongoing harassment towards female journalists should not be normalized

Journalism schools should offer safety training before students enter the field

(Kristen Frier)

(Kristen Frier)

It’s concerning when the daily routine of a female journalist includes encountering online harassment whenever they log into social media. This might make them feel numb to hate comments, but it should never be normalized. 

Ninety per cent of female journalists from the United States and 71 per cent from Canada found online harassment to be their biggest threat, according to a 2019 survey from the Committee to Protect Journalists. 

This is not to say that our male counterparts don’t experience harassment, they do but in ways that don’t often discriminate or sexualize their bodies. 

Threats of violence and harm come from trolls, the public, readers, listeners, and viewers. Eighty-five per cent of surveyed female journalists believe the profession has become less safe in the past five years. 

The most recent example of inviting online harassment towards journalists was from Maxime Bernier, the founder and leader of the People’s Party of Canada. 

On Sept. 22, Bernier insulted journalists from Bell Media, Global News, and Hill Times by calling them “idiots” and sharing their individual contact information with his followers, essentially encouraging them to reach out to these reporters and “play dirty.” The tweet was then taken down because it violated Twitter’s policy. 

But just before the tweet got deleted, The Canadian Association of Journalists took a screenshot of it and tweeted, “Journalists have a legal and ethical obligation to send questions and request comments from our politicians. Going after them for doing their basic duty is unacceptable and dangerous behaviour.” 

Brianna Hamblin, a local news reporter from Rochester, New York, was moments away from being live on-air when two men began harassing her while doing her job.

One of the men said, “You’re beautiful as hell.” She replied by thanking them and then they said, “God damn…see that’s why I can’t be left alone with a black woman.” 

Hamblin looked away and into the camera waiting for the men to leave until she decided to cut off her segment. 

Saba Eitizaz is the co-host and producer of “This Matters” the Toronto Star’s flagship daily podcast. She has received misogynist, racist, and threatening emails. Eitizaz took a screenshot of one of the emails and tweeted that Canada had rated highest for online abuse of women journalists in September.

Sports journalism is predominantly male, but that doesn’t mean women can’t be a part of it. Unfortunately, people aren’t too accustomed to having females telling them about their favourite sports teams. 

“Women in Sports ‘Face’ Harassment,” is a video by Just Not Sports where two female sports journalists sit and listen to men read mean tweets. But “mean tweets” is an understatement for the number of insulting comments these women constantly see on their twitter feeds.

The comments not only raise feelings of insecurity in many female journalists but also promote impostor syndrome, making them feel unqualified to do their jobs. 

This is when the confidence versus competence gap comes in. These two are a “phenomenon in which a man will put himself up for a job if he considers himself 60% qualified, whereas a woman will not, despite in many cases being more qualified than male colleagues,” reads a 2020 report titled Half the Story is Never Enough: Threats Facing Women Journalists. 

This phenomenon can decrease the number of female journalists in areas like sports, but it can also significantly discourage the number of females who wish to pursue journalism. 

Female Indigenous reporters also encounter violence on the job “while navigating the impact of generations of trauma in their personal lives.” Indigenous female journalists also said they are “sexually assaulted at a rate that is more than triple that of non-Indigenous women (35 per 1,000),” according to the same report.

There are ways for women to feel safe while doing their jobs by removing any personal information from their social media, including phone numbers and email addresses, according to CJP. 

A survey by CJP asked 115 female participants if they have taken safety and security training, and 2.6 per cent said maybe or they don’t know, 44 per cent said yes, and 53.5 per cent said no. 

If journalism schools encouraged more safety training for journalism students in areas like physical safety, social media, and first aid, it could reduce the fears many female journalists might have when entering the field.