Abuse towards journalists rises during pandemic

Reporters spat at, burnt out from negative stories, and chasing clickbait, amongst findings of industry survey.

Australian journalists are reporting an increase in harassment, threats and abuse in their pursuit of work, according to a new survey.

Respondents to a Medianet industry survey cited the mental impact of burnout from the constant news cycle, covering difficult news stories such as COVID deaths and public harassment and abuse of the media. Some journalists reported receiving severe threats and abuse from the public when covering issues related to COVID-19, on social media and also in-person.

“Australia is traditionally a safe place for journalists but now there are more and more incidents in which they are being attacked simply for doing their job largely due to the misinformation on social media platforms,” one respondent said.

Another noted, “I have noticed a huge mistrust in the media, especially among people my age [23]. I think it really stemmed from Donald Trump’s ‘fake news’ campaign and has trickled down to Australia and the coverage of Covid. I have been yelled at and spat on while interviewing people on the streets as part of my job and I have had people in my close circle tell me they no longer want to associate with me because of my profession.”

Almost all respondents (94%) acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic has in some ways impacted journalists’ abilities to work effectively in 2021.

Overall, female journalists reported more effects of the pandemic on work abilities than men, but male journalists felt more strongly impacted by restrictions on freedom of movement.

The impact of not being able to do in-person interviews during lockdowns, as well as being unable to travel and report from news events such as accidents, announcements, concerts, sporting events, exhibitions, conferences, etc. was also having an effect.

“I think the biggest impact has been on the mental health of journalists, with many facing a Groundhog Day scenario. Constantly reporting very negative stories,” said one.

Medianet Director of Media Intelligence Amrita Sidhu said, “Journalists reported being yelled at and spat on in the street and receiving death threats, as well as describing the impact of burnout from the constant news cycle and covering difficult and sad news stories.

“It’s important that we understand the barriers and difficulties journalists face so we can continue to support them to deliver the important information we rely on.”

But journalists were also asked if they had found themselves or their media organisation seeking more positive or “feel good” stories to provide a balance to the pandemic coverage.

Just over half of journalists (51%) responded that they had noticed this occurring.

This change was observed more frequently in the radio and television sectors than print, digital and podcasting.

“If the program or bulletin is stacked with depressing stories, we try to put something quirky or
funny in there to mix it up.”

But another noted, “Media should report news and facts, NOT act as manipulators of minds and feelings.”

62% of respondents said that they believe the content they produce is affected by the financial considerations of their media organisations.

Many journalists said that ratings and clicks are the most important consideration in all the content that they produce. Some stated that they must meet certain targets to maintain their job or receive financial reward.

“Most of my work is in TV so ratings dictate your budget for next season. If they fall, you could
lose your job,” one journalist advised.

40% of television journalists earn over $100,000 p.a. compared to around 20% of respondents working in radio, digital or print journalism, making television the highest paid sector.

30% of male journalists earn over $100,000 p.a., compared to just 16% of females and 12% of non-binary journalists. The most common pay category for journalists was between $60,000 and $79,999 p.a.

Television is the highest paid sector, with 40% of television journalists earning over $100,000 p.a. compared to around 20% of respondents working in radio, digital or print journalism.

983 journalists participated in the anonymous survey conducted between October and November 2021.

21 Responses

  1. The problem with commercial news is that it is primarily a business to make money and sometimes the truth can be boring and not rate so the temptation to sensationalise things are there.

  2. Peta Credlin did more in her 3 press conferenceS to ask dan andrews real questions than all the so called reporters did in 2 years of the pandemic ,all they did was suck up to Dan Andrews instead of asking real tough questions and getting to the truth and pull Andrews up when he lied .

    1. It was pretty sickening to watch them all sitting there, just accepting his spin. And when he refused to answer their questions they just sat there like scolded school children. Poor form media, poor form.

  3. Years ago we never had issues like today. There were few news bulletins, few live crosses and definitely no “breaking news” crap like today which normally isn’t breaking news. People watch that and mixed with the so called news stories about Amazon’s new amazing technologies or Coles and Woolies specials, then that’s where the self inflicted issues of poor news management decisions create these non stories that people perceive as crap journalism or “fake news”. Every time it is hot there’s a hot weather story. Every time there’s a news “Alert” it’s just another news break with the usual news. It’s simply self inflicted bad management and poor editorial choices that cause this to happen. Cut the crap from the commercial stations and you might get the respect back!

  4. the comments on this article seem to back the survey of the journos belief, while i acknowledge that the media job has changed, so has just about every industry and vocation, but since this a TV website, the article is justified. My sister is a ED nurse and she is always reminding me that a decision i make at work (over a location of an interview or shot choice, in my role as a camera op) is not like her life or death decisions she makes every day. she always grounds me.

  5. “The impact of not being able to do in-person interviews during lockdowns, as well as being unable to travel and report from news events such as accidents, announcements, concerts, sporting events, exhibitions, conferences, etc. was also having an effect.”

    A big diddums from me. Health workers treating COVID patients have a much tougher job.

  6. Yes of course it’s still all Trump’s fault isn’t it?
    Standing outside a courthouse, sticking your mic in someone’s face and asking “did you do it”? isn’t journalism, it’s
    goading someone to take a swing at you.

    1. Breaking news has become a joke. It’s breaking news when it first happens. It’s not ‘breaking news’ 2 hours later. It’s so irritating when both Sunrise & Today say that.

  7. A couple of years ago I made the decision to limit my news intake to 30 mins per day on tv and avoid all print media except on weekends where I like to read the odd opinion piece on politics and sport. I did this because the quality and quantity of news was no longer informing me of the things I felt I needed to know in the world and I felt constant stress from what I was consuming.

    I found the easiest way to do this was simply watch ABC news at 7.00pm as every commercial station now runs hourly national news broadcasts (seemingly every couple of hours).

    It may be a coincidence, but I found my stress levels reduced markedly as a result of this decision, and I think it may be a worthwhile exercise for others to try if, like me, you feel news might be negatively impacting mental health.

  8. “Most of my work is in TV so ratings dictate your budget for next season. If they fall, you could lose your job.” This is exactly why people don’t trust presstitues.
    News from corporate media these days is mostly propaganda, innuendoes, and disinformation funded by powerful interests.

  9. “Media should report news and facts, not act as manipulators of minds and feelings.” – This is so true! The ATAR rank for journalism should be a lot higher these days…

  10. To the extent that a journalist can be shown to have unfairly treated someone, I guess you can see how some individuals can feel anger towards certain reporters. Some journalists are warriors for their cause which can dampen their objectivity and not give everyone a fair go.
    But there is never justification to hurl a stubbie at reporter just doing their job in the street.

  11. Everybody deserves a safe work environment, but young people don’t trust Australia commercial TV journalism for the exact reason that it’s garbage.
    Nightly news is mostly propaganda, commercials pretending to be stories and car crashes.
    Young people don’t watch channel Nine news like their myopic parents, they see news via their phones.
    The difference in coverage of the protests in Melbourne last year on TV news compared to online was marked. TV played down numbers, miscategorised attendees to suit their narrative.
    If you’re watching news and Gerry Harvey pops up to tell you about his sales – you’re not watching news. If you watch Sunrise every morning – you’re not watching news.
    You’re watching dishonest trash.
    Blaming Trump for the decades of distrust media owners have created themselves is a joke.

  12. Sometimes I’m disappointed in the way some news is presented and I’ve seen a tendency to make the news be perceived in a particular way for political purposes, instead of just reporting the news. I also don’t want opinion, just the facts from the various sources and can make my own mind about it.

    Though I think journalists or reporters on location are just doing their jobs and shouldn’t be harassed. They’re on the frontline and may not be involved in the editorial process. Having said that, some journalists or reporters have been trying to get too close to the action. But still no excuse for abusing television and radio staff on location.

    And I agree that if you’re reporting on depressing things, then it’s good to mix it up with some lighthearted or positive things. This can go for any workplace that has to deal with serious things or circumstances.

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