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Editors urge action after threat against sports reporter’s children

Helen DalbyRegional editorial bosses have urged journalists to report online abuse they receive to the police after a threat was made against a sports reporter’s children.

Industry figures including Reach plc North East audience and content director Helen Dalby and Northern Echo editor Karl Holbrook have emphasised the need for further training and greater police intervention to tackle the threats their teams are facing.

The calls came during a debate on online abuse, held yesterday evening as part of this year’s Society of Editors Virtual Conference.

During the debate, Helen cited a recent incident in which a threat was made against the children of Newcastle daily The Chronicle’s Newcastle United Football Club editor.

The incident, which was reported to police by Reach, saw a reader post “reply or your children don’t come back from school” on Twitter after sending a barrage of questions and criticism.

It comes after Jon Birchall, sport audience and content director at Reach plc, told a Conference debate on mental health earlier this month “toxic behaviour” from readers had sparked a “crisis” for sports journalists facing abuse in their work.

Helen, pictured, told the debate: “It’s really important that our journalists are very clear on the steps that they need to follow in terms of how to report when this happens to them.

“It needs to form part of our newsroom training models and be something that every journalist who is involved in post-publication engagement on social media is very clear on.

“As editors we’re responsible for the safety and wellbeing of our team, as we all know, and in terms of a threat like that made online or social media, that doesn’t make it a virtual or consequence-free threat.

“It’s a real threat. It’s as real as if somebody turned up at our newsroom threatening our team or their families with physical violence.”

Karl told the debate there was a “real inconsistency” in terms of how threats against journalists are dealt with by the police.

He noted a man had been jailed for a threat made against Amy Fenton, former chief reporter at South Cumbria daily The Mail, but also cited the example of Belfast-based journalist Patricia Devlin, who has complained to two police forces about their handling of a rape threat made against her newborn son.

Earlier in the debate, he discussed how it was “always” female reporters in his team who faced the worst abuse.

Karl said: “There’s also a racial element to it from what I’ve seen in my teams.

“I’ve never faced the kind of abuse that women in the same newsrooms as me, that have made the same mistakes as me, face.”