For anyone who’s spent much time online, snark and nasty comments seem to come with the territory, but for women journalists, is it also part of the job? In a new cross-cultural study, 75 women journalists reported attacks they’ve experienced ranging from misogynistic comments to sexual violence – and they say it influences how they go about their reporting.
Gina Masullo Chen, an author of the study, is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Texas and the assistant director of the school’s Center for Media Engagement. For two decades, she was a newspaper and online reporter at the Post-Standard in Syracuse, New York.
“This study stemmed out of a project I did where we were interviewing both men and women, and whenever we talked to the women journalists, they would tell us these horrific stories,” she says. “So we decided to do a whole separate study on them, which led to this cross-cultural piece.”
Chen says other research shows that women experience instability and harassment online at higher rates than men.
“What’s different about what happens to men and women is that the attacks on women tend to be more gendered,” she says. “So they’re attacking not just the person, not just saying ‘you’re stupid’ but attacking their sexuality. Things as bad as rape threats, which usually don’t happen to male journalists.”
The threats take a toll on women, both emotionally and professionally.
“It has led some of them to even change how they report on stories,” she says, “by doing such things as leaving out certain facts because ‘oh, if I put that in, I’m really going to be bashed online.’ Or being super careful to include a lot of viewpoints so that they can sort of challenge any harassment that they face.”
Some say that this actually makes them better reporters because they’re so cautious about the language and the type of sources they use.
“Where I think it does harm journalism is that it makes women less likely to want to continue doing this job,” she says. “Because if you’re being attacked all the time, who wants to keep doing that?”
Written by Angela Bonilla.