ITV News at Ten presenter Julie Etchingham has said facing unwanted attention from online trolls is a “testing new feature” of her job and a “personal safety issue” for journalists.
Etchingham admitted she finds dealing with trolls “quite difficult to navigate” as she advised anyone facing similar vitriol not to “throw anything in there that makes it worse”.
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Speaking last night at an event hosted by ITV about female representation in its news coverage, Etchingham described trolling as “deeply unpleasant” and a “pretty unwelcome” recent addition to the job.
“For all of the connectivity that we get with our audience through social media, and obviously it clearly has a lot of benefits, we all know what the downside is.
“And for those of us who are front of camera – and some who aren’t – it can get pretty toxic,” she said.
“I find it quite difficult to navigate because I don’t ever respond to it. I don’t ever engage. If there’s something getting heated I just leave it.
“There is actually a sort of personal safety issue around it. You need to know what’s on there otherwise you don’t know who is pursuing you on social media, and I think for women in particular that is worrying.
“I think we are all in the age of trying to make sure we find the correct way of navigating it.”
Etchingham noted that some journalists are “quite combative and get stuck in with the trolls”.
Sky News’ Kay Burley has told Press Gazette she loves to argue on Twitter “because it’s fun”.
But Etchingham said: “I absolutely don’t ever go back because frankly I’ve got better things to do with my time and I find it a drain on the energy. But it is a testing new feature of the job, there’s no two ways about it.”
Asked for her advice for others who find themselves the subject of unwanted attention, she added: “I would say don’t throw anything in there that makes it worse, really just for a more peaceful life.”
‘Bracing’ to host election debates
Etchingham has worked at ITV News for 11 years and has hosted its political debates since 2015, including last year’s head-to-heads between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt for the Conservative leadership and then Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn ahead of the general election.
But she admitted she still finds the debates “terrifying” and “the single most nerve-wracking ones that I ever have done in my career”.
The way these programmes show the audience how people perform under pressure is what makes the debates both valuable and “incredibly stressful,” Etchingham went on.
“Nobody’s really interested in what my role is so long as I’m doing it fairly but you do have to take on quite a lot of – everybody’s got a view on how it should be done, the format and everything.
“Everybody has a view on it and you can guarantee that you’ll hear it and you’re hearing it literally minutes before you go on air and somehow you just have to find a quiet spot and go okay, somebody’s got to do this so it might as well be me.”
She added: “They don’t necessarily get any easier but I do know what I’ve got to brace myself for because they are quite high octane.”
ITV gender pay gap
Etchingham made headlines in 2018 when she criticised the “utterly unacceptable” gender pay gap at ITN, which produces the national ITV News bulletins.
ITN’s median gender pay gap has fallen from 18.2 per cent in 2017 to 16.8 per cent in 2019. The pay gap at ITV, which produces the channel’s regional news programmes, was at 11 per cent in 2018.
ITV News editor Rachel Corp revealed last night, ahead of International Women’s Day on Sunday, that roughly 50 per cent of senior editorial and managerial roles at ITV network and regional news are now filled by women.
ITV has also run a number of workshops for female experts and commentators to increase on-screen representation in its news programming, and gender balance is now discussed at the end of every programme and displayed monthly on a board in each newsroom.
Similar methods are being deployed to create an appropriate balance of black, Asian and minority ethnic, and disabled voices.
Corp revealed ITV’s regional news programmes have now reached 47 per cent female representation on screen, including journalists, experts and subjects of news stories, while its national network news is on 42 per cent.
“I do believe our programmes look and feel different,” Corp said.
Etchingham said: “I see equal female representation in news on screen and off in front and behind the camera as a no-brainer of a mission.
“If it is our job to reflect back to audiences the world they live and work in accurately then this simply has to happen and we’re not serving our audiences properly if we don’t do it.
“I have to say, since I became a journalist which was over 25 years ago, things have changed massively.
“I was the only female out of seven news trainees when I joined the BBC that year. There is still a way to go yet but it has been transformed since.”
Picture: ITV News