Call for Papers: Digital Journalism Special Issue

Being Well at Work: Addressing Safety, Security, and Well-Being in Digital Journalism

Abstract submission deadline: 
June 1, 2023

Notification on submitted abstracts: 
June 20, 2023

Article submission deadline:
January 15, 2024

Global political and technological environments are increasingly fraught with deepening political polarization and the expansion of populist governments, ongoing wars, and the Covid-19 pandemic, while dramatic labor shifts in tech and media companies and extreme volatility in crypto markets reflect intensifying tech disarray; impacting journalistic well-being. The need for journalists to engage in online connective practices through social platforms linked to capitalist social relations on structural and organizational levels, from the web to news organizations, has also contributed to journalists’ poor well-being, with journalists experiencing acute and chronic forms of harassment from audiences that come with few, if any, protections or responses from news organizations (Feinstein et al., 2015; Tandoc et al., 2021).

The effects of this environment on journalists and journalism are significant, and range from self-censorship and mob censorship (Waisbord, 2020) to disconnection and departure from the profession (Bélair-Gagnon et al., 2022). Together, these conditions, among others, have important implications for the well-being of journalists, which includes “the presence of positive emotions and moods (e.g., contentment, happiness), the absence of negative emotions (e.g., depression, anxiety), satisfaction with life, fulfillment and positive functioning” (CDC, 2018). The condition of well-being also has financial implications for newsrooms: from the recruitment to the retention of journalists who may want to leave the profession altogether (Mathews et al., 2020).

Journalists at news organizations, freelance journalists, and those in managerial, editorial, and production positions have reported dramatic increases in psychological and emotional labor and trauma coupled with declines in their well-being and sense of personal and professional happiness. In a report on Canadian journalists’ mental health, well-being, and trauma, Pearson and Seglins (2022) found an alarming amount of stress in all corners of the news industry. While news organizations lean further into digital and social media platforms for content creation, sharing, and commodification, they also ask journalists to accept the increased blurring of their personal and professional lives across numerous public-facing platforms in an always-on environment that facilitates online and offline harassment as well as identity dilemmas (Henrichsen & Shelton, 2022). This special issue will examine these issues from different news actors' experiences globally, including journalists, managers, policy-makers, and technology companies.

Technological infrastructures, tools and sociotechnical arrangements have been central to the challenges facing well-being in digital journalism. In a 2022 report by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and UNESCO, Posetti and colleagues noted how online violence against women journalists “is one of the most serious contemporary threats to press freedom internationally” and has become “the new frontline in journalism safety” (p. 8, 17). The authors note myriad factors are at play, including the COVID-19 pandemic, which contributed to an escalation of gendered online violence as conspiracy communities grew and exposure to toxic online communities increased amidst higher levels of remote work and isolation. Far-right extremism, networked misogyny, and coordinated disinformation campaigns also contribute to online violence and have repercussions for news actors globally. These conditions highlight important questions about how the changing role of political economies and practices of digital journalism affect journalists’ well-being.

In particular, this special issue asks the following questions: In what ways have the conceptualizations and experiences of well-being changed within journalism and newsrooms across the globe? How might some news organizations or journalists create social infrastructures that alleviate the precarities faced by those without such support systems? To what extent has digital journalism affected dialogues around and enactments of well-being among journalists? These questions are important to consider because well-being affects journalistic performance and has serious consequences for news practitioners and journalism educators who will train the next generation of journalists to report on pressing issues around the world.

This special issue of Digital Journalism will explore the global state of well-being in digital journalism work in various contexts and with special attention to the role of technological infrastructures, social actors, audiences/publics, and their activities. As such, it considers the following topics:

  • The power of platforms and digital communities in the shaping of well-being in journalism
  • The role of identity, including gender expression and identity, sex and sexual orientation, ethnicity and race, and outcomes of identity verification processes such as self-worth, self-efficacy, and authenticity 
  • Policy approaches and tensions in journalistic well-being, including issues related to hostility and abuse at work
  • The ways that evolving political economies and practices of digital journalism have impacted journalists’ well-being
  • Issue-based articles on topics including hostility, harassment, abuse, precarity, trauma, safety, and security and how they relate to sociotechnical systems, also in relation to the audience turn in journalism.
  • Tech-specific analysis and conceptualization including on issues of safety and security
  • The role of digital work settings, such as remote work tools, practices, and conceptualizations of well-being in journalism
  • Conceptualizations and understandings of well-being within digital journalism, such as through metajournalistic discourses, policy analysis, etc.
  • The kinds of collective actions from the journalistic field that exist to deal with issues of journalistic well-being
  • Ways in which internal logics of journalism (e.g., editorial gendered hierarchies, hierarchies of content meaning, pressures to publish first, low status of certain subject areas, etc.) are negotiated
  • Ways in which conceptions of well-being differ based on regional context (e.g., covering war in Ukraine, working for state media in Russia, etc.), status within an institution, precarity outside an institution, etc.
  • The institutional or organizational activities which may damage well-being of journalists and activities at these levels that could improve well-being
  • The digital disruption in journalistic work (e.g., the intensification of work in digital settings)
  • Comparative perspectives on well-being in journalism
  • The impact of well-being in journalistic performance

Information about submitting

Proposals should include the following: an abstract of 500-750 words (not including references) as well as background information on the author(s), including an abbreviated bio that describes previous and current research that relates to the special issue theme.

Please submit your proposal as one file (PDF) with your name(s) clearly stated in the file name and the first page. Use the special issue title as a header in the email. Send your proposal to Dr. Jennifer Henrichsen at [email protected] by June 1, 2023, as stated in the timeline below. Authors of accepted proposals are expected to develop and submit their original article, for full blind peer review, in accordance with the journal’s peer-review procedure, by the deadline stated. Articles should be between 7000 and 9000 words in length and follow Digital Journalism’s style guidelines. 

Jennifer R. Henrichsen
Assistant Professor at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University,

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon
Associate Professor and Cowles Fellow in Media Management at the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

Avery E. Holton
Associate Professor, Chair of the Department of Communication and Co-Coordinator of Research for the Utah Center for Excellence in Ethical, Legal and Social Implications Research (funded by the National Institutes of Health) at the University of Utah

Claudia Mellado
Professor of Journalism in the School of Journalism at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, Chile.

Rebekah Tromble
Director of the Institute for Data, Democracy & Politics and Associate Professor in the School of Media & Public Affairs at The George Washington University,