Reach has created an online safety editor role, the first of its kind in the UK, to tackle “endemic” abuse and harassment of its journalists “head on”.
The UK’s largest commercial publisher said the appointee would liaise with social media platforms on individual cases of abuse and to push for action to improve the problem more generally.
The Reach online safety editor will ensure the publisher’s online abuse policies are followed in every case and support staff who are affected. They will develop and deliver training for dealing with online abuse.
A taskforce of senior editorial and HR leaders decided to introduce the role, which is now being advertised and will sit within the audience team, after seeing the results of an internal survey of more than 550 employees.
Group editor-in-chief Lloyd Embley (pictured) said: “Online abuse has become endemic in our industry. It can severely impact the mental health of our journalists and at times even threatens their physical safety.
“While we have always had a system in place to support and protect our colleagues, we felt that with online abuse only increasing across the industry we needed to dedicate a role to tackle it head on.
“We will not allow our journalism to be silenced or our colleagues to live in fear.”
The announcement came in the same week a woman was sentenced for an abusive email towards a journalist at Hull Live, one of Reach’s regional news brands.
The email to Anna Riley, who has since left to join GB News, threatened to publish her address on social media unless she took down a “hate filled racist article” about a Labour councillor who hit out on Twitter about Prince Philip’s past “racist” remarks hours after his death.
“Go kill yourself you racist scumbag,” it said. It also called her a “needy fat s*** who lives on takeaways”.
Elizabeth O’Brien, 31, of The Greenway in Hull pleaded guilty to one count of sending malicious communications and was sentenced to 80 hours of unpaid work under a community order plus £100 in compensation and court costs of £85.
Riley encouraged others to report abuse and trolling towards them “so that these spineless individuals are punished and the message gets spread that it’s not okay to troll”. She said the email left her “sick to my stomach and was an especially shocking response to me just doing my job”.
The Government is currently asking journalists to share their experiences of online abuse and of reporting it to their employers, social platforms and the police to help it decide how to take action. The consultation is open until 14 July.
There is no meaningful data on the scale of the problem at present, with many incidents never reported formally.
But some incidents do make it to court and have even resulted in abusers going to jail: last year a man was jailed for two and a half years for threatening to kill Liverpool Echo staff and this year a man was given 22 weeks in custody for threatening to shoot a journalist at Newsquest daily The Mail on Facebook.
Online abuse concerns on Press Gazette:
- Call for journalists to receive ’emotional flak jackets’ against worsening online abuse
- Boris Johnson says ‘cowardly’ abuse of journalists must end as Govt publishes action plan
- Journalism students now need training for ‘vile’ online abuse they will face, study finds
- Guardian columnist Owen Jones advises journalists targeted by online abuse to “take it seriously”
Picture: Society of Editors
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