Monday 21 September 2020

Life as a Student Journalist

Adam shares his experience of and thoughts on the abuse that student journalists are subject to, and the impact of such hostility on their wellbeing and the future of journalism.
Adam Jones

Right, let’s have a chat about young journalists and my concerns surrounding their mental wellbeing.
Journalism is a tough profession – something I have learnt during my time at university. It’s certainly not one for the fainthearted – but it can be immensely rewarding if you play your cards right - and it’s a chance for you to serve the public who often rely on us to inform and educate.

However, this chance to serve citizens does come with close public scrutiny, as it should do because us journalists have a considerable amount of power. Like politicians, our words should always be held to account and this can help to prevent an ever-present epidemic of misinformation and disinformation. 
This is probably the understatement of the year but we, the UK media, are currently very unpopular as a whole. There are many great journalists out there – but the behaviour of a select few is ruining it for the many. I totally understand why we aren’t popular at times because of that.

Despite this, I do draw the line at abuse and personal attacks. At a time where trust in the media is so low, the relationship between journalists and the public is not exactly sky-high. The world of political writing has become especially volatile, with tribal Twitter politics, the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union and uncertainty of Scotland’s place in the UK.

Regardless of political views and other opinions in general, debate should always be civilised and respectful. Behind every social media account is a human being, just like you and me. Unfortunately, I have seen abuse take its toll on someone who writes for a political blog – and it’s really not nice. This was a new writer as well - and she was horrified at trolls who decided to target her, to the point where she asked for the promotion of her article to be taken down. Although she was brave on the outside, only she would know how deeply it hurt her on the inside. Not all of us are out there to ruin people’s lives, we want to serve the general public.

Twitter is the worst culprit for this type of online abuse in my opinion. Inadvertently, it has created tribal politics, where you either must be on one side or another. There’s no middle ground – and this has also created a hostile atmosphere towards some journalists.

You might think this is an even worse case because she was a new writer - and that’s true to an extent. I have been writing for a few years now and have experienced this type of hostility before – albeit quite rarely. Unfortunately, this has just become part and parcel of being in this industry. However, why should normalise this vitriol? It can be quite off-putting to carry on writing – but until we can find a solution and increase trust in our media, there is not much else we can really do! You always dread receiving abuse, not just about your article but also personal attacks, but it’s great to see most people out there who are on social media for all the right reasons.

A lot of experienced journalists are probably completely unaffected by vicious comments - but there must be a proportion of those who are, bit by bit, being worn down by it. The fact is you never know what’s happening in someone’s life behind closed doors. That’s the thing about mental health – you often can’t see mental scars and how people feel.

If we want to reduce the trust-deficit in the media, we need student journalists coming through the ranks with a strong moral compass to change the game. Good journalism is needed more than ever – sufficient funding and ethical journalists are the two components that can make this happen. We also need to ensure we do not put people off from becoming a journalist. Hostility on social media is enough to discourage anyone from pursuing this type of career – something needs to be done.

Social media platforms need to do more in general to combat abuse. They have sat by for way too long and have let this major issue just fester. Faceless accounts are often the ones spewing this bile and hatred – one of the things these platforms need to do more to tackle.

However, it’s not just social media platforms that have to take action.

Media institutions need to act with integrity and instil the right organisational culture if they are to protect their employees from abuse. Although I know this might be hard with the coronavirus pandemic decimating the publishing industry, it has to be high up on the list of their priorities.

Behind every journalist’s account is a person – hold them to account and call people out when they have behaved unethically through their content or conduct – but we cannot and must not actively encourage pile-ons or abuse to be thrown. Be that bigger person. From there, we can make the world a kinder place.
The UK media has a job to do in increasing trust – but the public need to act collectively to ensure we value everyone’s mental wellbeing, including those in the media who we do not necessarily agree with.

Visit Student Minds website for more resources on looking after yourself while facing different challenges of student life. 

Hello! My name is Adam. I study Journalism and Media Production (BA Hons) at the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham. Being a keen blogger and having several experiences during my academic studies, I hope that I can help people along the way whilst enjoying writing for you.

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