The TOHIF team have successfully facilitated a series of interactive workshops at Sky Sports News (SSN). These workshops, building on from our wider research with sports journalists, were designed to explore the experiences of sport media personnel working in a variety of roles including journalism, production, editing and presenting.

The workshop, entitled ‘Sports Media and Online Harms’, was underpinned by a participatory-design approach as we allowed significant time for participants to share their stories, ideas and possible solutions. The workshop was structured around three core areas: 1) experiences of online harms/abuse; 2) how online harms/abuse impacts upon personal and professional lives; 3) ways in which employers/institutions and individuals themselves can be protected and supporting against online harms/abuse.

Akin to our prior research with 21 sports journalists working in the UK and Ireland in digital, print, broadcast and freelance sectors, these workshops enabled us share our emerging findings, gather new insights and sharpen potential outputs. Workshop participants spoke freely and shared their stories, many of which resonated with others and connected with our wider emerging findings.

It was noted that online harms/abuse takes place in many different guises, forms and across different platforms. Some use social media platforms to interact, others choose to ‘lurk’, while a smaller cohort opt to stay clear of social media (this approach is adopted by more senior and experienced members of the workforce).

Some overarching themes occurred across the workshops. It was suggested that online harms/abuse can affect confidence and criticality in work. Journalists, for example, may run ‘safer’ stories and angles in a bid to mitigate online abuse but this has the potential to stifle creativity. Participants also spoke of ‘doxing’ whereby online users trawl social media profiles and past work to uncover any issues/mistakes in an attempt to get them sacked. It was added that identified ‘mistakes’ were often taken out of context and manipulated. Mental health and wellbeing was also raised as some participants highlighted that when family members including parents, partners and even children are targeted, or observe the abuse, it can negatively affect wellbeing.

However, in the true spirit of journalistic balance, we must demonstrate some of the positive features social media offers those working in the sport media. For example, some participants suggested that social media, if used correctly, can be an excellent tool to help reporting as breaking news stories, quotes, contacts and public reactions can be easily and quickly garnered. Moreover, some argued that because of social media and the possible threat of online hostility, it further encouraged journalists to triple check content before posting meaning that quality standards may have increased.

Nonetheless, online harms/abuse is a critical threat and the sport media industry needs to acknowledge and develop appropriate counter-measures to best protect and support the workforce. SSN, building on from their ‘Against Online Hate’ campaign in 2021, and their current policies and practices devoted to challenging online harms/abuse, have enthusiastically opened their doors to the TOHIF team and look to further collaborate. Academic researchers and stakeholders must work together if we are to challenge this deeply concerning and pervasive issue.