Dr Maja Šimunjak was invited by the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) to co-develop an e-learning course for online safety and enhancing resilience, based on her own research and forthcoming textbook 'Managing Emotions in Journalism'.
The free course takes two hours to complete and is for both working journalists and journalism students. It aims to raise awareness and provide essential guidance to support journalists if they face difficult situations as a direct result of their job.
Online safety and protection, managing difficult situations while reporting, knowing your rights, managing distressing stories, resilience in the newsroom and mental health and wellbeing are all covered.
Dr Šimunjak, a senior lecturer in journalism at MDX, has extensive experience in various media outlets, including the positions of an editor and news anchor at a national television station, subeditor in daily newspapers and a radio journalist and anchor.
She says there are multiple reasons why journalists’ emotional labour – ie management of emotion which comes as an inevitable part of the job – calls for immediate attention.
“I have been dealing with digital media audiences and social media furore for almost 20 years now so I am familiar with the issues involved,” Dr Šimunjak said.
“The aspect of the course I’ve created is based on experiences and strategies that British journalists shared with me as part of my AHRC project ‘Journalists’ emotional labour in the social media era.’ It is their voices I’m trying to represent and amplify.
“If you ask the journalists, they’ll say that the profession has significantly changed in the last decade. The core of journalists’ work and role remains the same, but with digital transformations we’ve seen the continuing trend of journalists’ workloads expanding, meaning they are asked to do more and more year on year, which contributes to stress and burnout."
According to a study from Worlds of Journalism, 98% of journalists in the UK said social media has influenced their work.
Dr Šimunjak said: “While there are positives to it, particularly in terms of easier and quicker information gathering, journalists also associate social media with abuse and harassment that is aimed at them, as well as difficulties in disconnecting from work.
“Journalists I spoke to often described social media as hostile environment for which they are not trained, nor supported in trying to safeguard themselves from abuse and burnout.
“My textbook, and the contribution to the NCTJ course, outlines practical strategies that can be employed when working with social media, learned from journalists who I’ve interviewed. These include actions such as turning off notifications, muting conversations, using TweetDeck to manage the content that is being seen, not having social media apps on smartphones etc.
“Yet, as I’m arguing there, and in my other work, journalists’ online safety and well-being should not be journalists’ sole responsibility. There should also be systems of organisational and social support in place to help journalists mitigate negative consequences of working in digital spaces.”
Dr Šimunjak’s textbook 'Managing Emotions in Journalism' is a great fit with the NCTJ e-learning course. It will cover a wide range of situations that require emotional labour in journalists’ work and aims to enhance journalists’ resilience in managing these aspects of their labour.
“Online safety, particularly in terms of working with social media, features prominently in the textbook and is high on the agenda of British journalists I’ve spoken to,” she said.
“There is hardly a journalist who isn’t working in digital spaces, and we now have plenty of evidence that this comes with serious consequences for their safety, well-being, and in the end, the quality of work they produce.
“Hence, they should know what to expect when working in digital spaces, and how to protect themselves from harm. Yet, this is just one aspect of support. Journalists’ online safety should also be supported through organisational and social structures.”
Dr Šimunjak says that one of the biggest obstacles to supporting journalists’ online safety is recognising this as an issue.
“I’ve been working on this for the past few years, and it’s heartening to see that the academic research and industry initiatives are moving in that direction," she said.
“When I started working on the issue of online abuse in journalism a few years ago, there was a handful of studies reporting on it. Now, we have evidence from across the world that this is a widespread and serious issue, affecting journalists’ well-being and the quality of their work.”
Last year MDX hosted a public roundtable about journalists’ experiences of online abuse in their work, which one senior broadcaster described as “like a combination of being a lab rat and a punch bag.”
Speakers included former news editor and journalism lecturer Rebecca Whittington, Reach plc’s first Online Safety Editor since October 2021.
Dr Šimunjak added: “Consultations to UNESCO’s Action plan on the safety of journalists, which I’ve participated in, put great emphasis on online safety. This new course of online safety by NCTJ also shows recognition of the issue. So, we’re moving in the right direction.
“Yet, much more needs to be done. Media organisations could do better by investing more in support systems for journalists’ online safety. Journalism schools should talk about it in their curricula. Platforms could offer technical solutions to combat hate speech and harassment on their sites.
“And journalism culture might do with a shift as well – the macho narratives of having ‘thick skin’ and ‘handling it’ seem outdated. It is okay not to be okay if you feel threatened or harassed, and the industry should empower their professionals to recognise this toll and receive support to manage it.”
Click to find out more about studying Journalism at MDX.