Escaping toxic newsroom spaces and online hate

Dhanya Rajendran, Editor-in-Chief, The News Minute.
21st June 2023
13:00 - 14:00

The speaker 

Dhanya Rajendran is co-founder and editor-in-chief of The News Minute, and the recipient of the 2022 Chameli Devi Jain Award. Under her leadership, The News Minute has grown to become one of the most trusted and widely read news portals in South India, with a focus on providing in-depth coverage of regional news and politics.

Why newsroom culture and online harassment matters: 

  • Our latest Changing Newsrooms report concluded that newsrooms should focus on nurturing and retaining that talent by creating an inclusive workplace culture to support journalists in creating meaningful journalism.

  • Companies have the capacity of fostering toxic work cultures if complaints of harassment and bullying go unaddressed or if there is a culture of silence where junior employees might feel complaining will damage their careers. 

  • Burnout and unrelenting workloads, without any support from their newsrooms, has caused many journalists to leave the profession. Online harassment has also caused many, particularly female journalists, to leave or consider leaving the profession. 

Watch Dhanya's Talk

Five takeaways from Dhanya’s talk and the discussion: 

1. Be aware of the problems in your newsroom. “We have to pause at times and then look behind and ask ‘are there people suffering because of us? Do people in our office feel that the culture here is not right?” said Rajendran. “That kind of bookkeeping has to be done often otherwise the cycle will not stop.” The cycle she refers to is the cycle of toxicity in a newsroom. When managers are not aware of the problems their employees are facing, the workplace can become a fertile ground for bullying and discontent. 

2. Respect your journalists’ work-life balance. Generational divides abound in a newsroom with younger journalists being more firm in terms of their work-life balance. A sign of a toxic newsroom is not respecting your journalists’ time. This ranges from pressures to not take time off work, work overtime at the newsroom or even assigning negative connotations to taking a lunch break or a weekend. "You have to respect the different ways in which people work,” said Rajendran. “I can still work 24/7 but that does not make me any less or any more of a journalist than someone who can do that much work efficiently within five days."

3. Create a newsroom culture around openness and honesty. Rajendran says that a problem they have faced is around a ‘culture of silence’ where junior employees fear complaining due to possible repercussions of being singled out or labelled as troublemakers. However, newsrooms should encourage open and honest conversations about the culture of their own organisation if they want actual change in the industry. "We need to have more open conversations and tell people that if they think the culture in the newsroom is not right, they should speak up about it," said Rajendran.

4. Allow your journalists to say no. "In an open newsroom, every journalist should be told to voice if they don't want to cover a particular story or want to write about something," said Rajendran. Part of having open conversations in the newsroom is allowing journalists to express discontentment and allow them to recuse themselves from stories they feel uncomfortable covering like stories they don’t agree with or stories that they feel are appropriation. 

5. Newsrooms should take online harassment very seriously. As a journalist that has experienced relentless targeted harassment online, Rajendran said that newsrooms need to help their journalists deal with online harassment rather than ignore the problem. Those measures can range from putting out a statement to mute the account to blocking and reporting trolls. "The real danger of social media is that it is actually making journalists get scared [of online harassment] and they are self censoring their work," she said. 

The bottom line 

News organisations should strive in making their workplace culture a place where people want to work. This is achieved by being aware of the current problems, having open and honest conversations with employees, and respecting your journalists’ boundaries. Online harassment is also becoming a growing problem that newsrooms should confront head on with their employees, rather than leaving the journalist to fend for themselves in a barrage of online hate.

Part of our Global Journalism Seminars series.

Read a live, automated transcript.

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