Step 1: Reporting

Creating an environment in which journalists feel comfortable in reporting online attacks must be a core goal of news organizations. A competitive work environment or a precarious job situation may generate concerns among journalists that reporting attacks will be perceived as a sign of weakness or lack of professional standards and will have negative repercussion on their career. But speaking openly about online attacks is essential to limiting their effects, including trauma and self-censorship. Newsrooms should create various channels through which attacks can be easily reported and which allow journalists to access support mechanisms.


Step 2: Risk Assessment

After an attack against a journalist has been brought to the attention of the editor, the head of audience or online safety expert, a thorough assessment of the following risks is important to determine which type of support is the most appropriate: a) The likelihood that an online threat will turn into a physical attack. b) The damage caused by an online smear campaign to the reputation and credibility of the journalist and/or news organization. c) The emotional impact of the online abuse on the targeted journalist. Three key positions within the newsroom need to be involved in the assessment: Online Safety Expert, Editor and Head of Audience. Other relevant actors can be encouraged to participate.


Step 3: Implementing Support Mechanisms

Whenever journalists become targets of online attacks, threats, smear campaigns and harassment, it is the duty of the entire news organization – management and colleagues – to provide support and ensure a) that journalists feel safe in their job, confident that risks are being addressed in a serious and timely manner and that they are not left alone to deal with the consequences; and b) that a strong a strong message is sent to staff, contributors and audiences that an attack against one journalist is treated as an attack against the entire news organization. This section highlights measures that can be implemented following an attack.


Step 4: Tracking and Reassessment

News organizations should create a database to keep a record and track the evolution of each case of online harassment and the support measures implemented. This database will help to reassess the efficiency of support measures. Management needs to assign a member of the staff to curate and manage this database to keep track of the cases. Ideally, this person would be the Online Safety Expert, who should have the strongest overview of the newsroom measures applied to assist the targeted journalist.