‘To keep myself safe is to do things that are the opposite to how I’ve been socialized,’ journalist tells students

What young reporters can do to protect themselves and address harassment

Angelyn Francis and Stacy Lee Kong sit at the panel to discuss harassment in journalism.
Journalists Angelyn Francis, left, and Stacy Lee Kong discuss what facing harassment is like as women in journalism. 

The constant harassment of female journalists is a problem faced by students and professionals alike, according to journalists who participated in a panel at Centennial College.

Angelyn Francis, Stacy Lee Kong, Maham Abedi, Ian Kennedy, and Amita Singh participated in a livestreamed discussion on March 9. With questions designed by students, the panel aimed to address young journalists’ concerns, and encourage ways in which they can protect themselves and those around them. 

Stacy Lee Kong, a journalism professor at Centennial and the founder of Friday Things, a media brand for millennials and Gen Zers, pointed out that young women are socialized to be friendly and accommodating.

“To keep myself safe is to do things that are the opposite to how I’ve been socialized,” she said.

Harassment is a prevalent concern among journalists in Canada. An online survey of more than 1,200 journalists conducted in 2021 found more than half of respondents had experienced online harassment, and 35 per cent had encountered harassment while working in the field.

It can often come in the form of online hate, unwanted advances during interviews, or aggressive actions toward a journalist while working in the field, to name a few. 

“Harassment is inappropriate, unwanted attention … you might not always know it is harassment, but I would say trust your gut,” said Singh, a counsellor with the Centre for Accessible Learning and Counselling Services (CALCS), and the Sexual Violence Support Co-ordinator for Centennial College. 

One of the constants in journalism is interviews, a valuable way to gain insight into stories and topics while amplifying voices. But conducting them can be a daunting task for female journalists if they are subjected to harassment during the process.

The importance of recording interviews

The unanimous advice from the panellists was to always record interviews. From there, if something uncomfortable happens during an interview, such as an inappropriate comment, the journalist can offer a simple reminder to the subject that they are being recorded.

Francis, the Toronto Star’s former equity and inequality reporter, suggested using this wording: “I am here in a professional capacity, you are here in a professional capacity … I would appreciate it if we interact with and conduct this conversation as such.”

Such an encounter should also raise some important questions for reporters, according to Abedi, network managing editor for Global News.

“Is this a reliable source that I should even be using and is this a voice I want to be amplifying?” she asked. 

Safety is the most important consideration

Safety is the top priority. The panellists recommended journalists remove themselves from the situation when necessary, and to advocate for the support they need.

“We need to feel empowered to demand that type of care because no one’s going to just offer it to you,” said Kong. 

Other common advice they offered was to create a paper trail by planning interviews through email, keeping your personal contact information away from sources, steering clear of hateful comments online, and for journalists to remind themselves they have no obligation to defend the facts they publish. 

“Just be vocal about what you feel like you need,” said Abedi. It is apparent that nothing in this industry is given, journalists must chase stories, sources and protection. 

Despite the harassment female journalists face, it’s also important for them to realize the impact of their work as they pave the way for future journalists.

“If we don’t have stringent structures in place to support the most marginalized people then we will lose them. We’re just not going to have the voices that we need in newsrooms,” said Abedi.

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Posted: Mar 13 2023 8:45 am
Filed under: Education News