Newsrooms taking action: A Q&A with the San Francisco Chronicle

The San Francisco Chronicle has taken new steps to mitigate online abuse and protect its employees online. We spoke with the Chronicle’s Director of Culture and Operations, Michael D. Bolden, about these changes.

Coalition Against Online Violence: What prompted the Chronicle’s leadership to take action against online abuse? (Please feel free to include any anecdotes or scenarios).

Michael D. Bolden: We’ve become increasingly more focused on the harassment and abuse our journalists face, especially in the past year when so much attention has been on issues of race and equity, how we cover them and the responses they generate. We’ve heard concerns voiced by our staff in conversations we’ve had both individually and with the newsroom as a whole. We want to ensure that our journalists can bring their whole selves to the important work they do. Unfortunately, women and journalists of color attract a disproportionate share of harassment and abuse just for doing their jobs. It’s important for us to provide resources that help our journalists deal with this pressure and protect their own well-being. This is a priority for our editor in chief, Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, who took over at the Chronicle last September, and for the diverse executive team he has assembled. 

CAOV: What has the Chronicle’s approach to journalist safety been historically – both for physical and digital safety?

MDB: The safety of our journalists has always been an essential concern at the Chronicle. In the past, that’s often taken on physical dimensions, especially when our journalists are reporting on stories, such as wildfires, that may take them into harm’s way. Over time, safety in the digital realm has become even more important as we’ve become a more digital news organization, and we want to make sure our journalists are well-equipped for both physical and digital safety. 

CAOV: How has the Chronicle changed its safety strategy or protocols to address online violence? What measures have you implemented, and what actions are you still planning to take?

MDB: In recent weeks, we’ve held digital safety and online abuse training sessions with the newsroom staff, one piloted by our parent company through Hearst Technical Services and another led by Ela Stapley of the International Women’s Media Foundation. We’ve encouraged our journalists to take the massive open online course “How to Report Safely” from the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas (and agreed to reimburse them if they wanted certification). We’re creating a newsroom rapid-response team to help support our journalists who may be experiencing online harassment and abuse. Hearst is testing software solutions for helping mitigate doxxing and other issues with a focus group from our newsroom, which we hope to roll out soon. We’re adding new ways for staff to report problems, creating a dedicated Slack channel (which also pins resources in an easily accessible place), and creating an email distribution group our journalists can use to notify leadership and a team of colleagues when issues arise. Our human resources department has also added materials on dealing with online abuse to our onboarding package for new employees. We’re also trying to stay aware of stories that have the potential to attract online abuse and to strategize on how we can deal with that before it even happens. Most of all, we realize we have to continually evolve our strategy and practices to deal with online harassment and violence, which itself is evolving. 

CAOV: What advice do you have for other newsrooms who want to take new measures to protect their journalists against online abuse?

MDB: Be proactive. The training that is available from IWMF and other groups is first rate. I think every newsroom should host these sessions. Listen to the staff about what problems they are seeing and experiencing and discuss them openly. Keeping the lines of communication open is an important element for awareness but also to provide the support people need when problems arise. Our journalists should not have to face this online abuse and harassment alone.