Media Beat: Insider guides to Columbia J School's Rolling Stone Report - iMediaEthics

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This weekend, Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism released its long-awaited investigation into the failures that led Rolling Stone to publish its now-discredited story “A Rape on Campus.”

Reactions and analyses of the investigation flood the media beat, and headlines about the scandal go far beyond the usual “inside baseball” chatter.


New York Times: Story is now in “Rogues’ Gallery of Journalism Scandals”

The investigation “makes plain in forensic detail what went wrong, how traditional safeguards broke down at pretty much every level of the editorial process,” the New York Times reported. “The tone is more constructive than chiding; it is a case study in the failure to follow best journalistic practices.”

The report puts “A Rape on Campus” in “America’s rogues’ gallery of journalism scandals.” The three categories listed by the New York Times are fabrication like that of the infamous Times reporter Jayson Blair; plagiarism; and “lack of skepticism” which is the conclusions of the  Rolling Stone report.

“It is a crime no single journalist — reporter or editor — can be completely inoculated against committing,” the Times explained.

The New York Times also published an opinion piece by Jenny Wilkinson telling her story as a sexual assault victim at the University of Virginia in 1997.

MSNBC listed “four takeaways” from the report: no firings, no interview with Jackie, “sensitivity to a victim versus accuracy is a false choice,” and the reliance on a “dramatic example.” Time magazine also listed its own “four takeaways,” which were:

  • “The story was a ‘journalistic failure that was avoidable'”
  • “The desire to ‘believe the victim’ played a key role”
  • “Doubts quickly mounted internally after publication”
  • “Don’t expect heads to roll”

“The most incriminating detail is that nobody at the magazine seems to believe that its reporting, editorial, and fact-checking practices are in need of serious reform,” the Daily Beast reported.


SPJ Reacts

The Society of Professional Journalists issued a press release after the investigation was published saying it is “disappointed in journalistic lapses found in the Rolling Stone story.”

SPJ said it “commends” the investigation by the Columbia J School.

“Basic yet critical fundamentals of journalism seem to have gotten lost in the pursuit of a story that fits a reporter’s predetermined narrative or angle,” Dana Neuts the president for SPJ is quoted as saying.

“SPJ is disappointed that Rolling Stone has stained the credibility of journalism by failing to employ standard reporting and editorial practices, such as independent verification and thorough fact-checking. We are also disappointed that Rolling Stone retracted its story but still does not acknowledge that changes in its editorial practices are needed,” Neuts added.

In a separate blogpost, SPJ ethics committee chair Andrew Seaman responded to the investigation.

Seaman reminded that “the blame for harm…falls on the shoulders of Rolling Stone” and not Jackie.

“Without a doubt, the Rolling Stone story on the alleged 2012 sexual assault at the University of Virginia will be considered as one of the great journalism failings in modern history – alongside the scandals of The New York Times’s Jayson Blair scandal and The Washington Post’s Janet Cooke,” Seaman wrote.


UVA: Rolling Stone published ‘Irresponsible Journalism’

The University of Virginia’s president, Teresa A. Sullivan, issued a statement criticizing the Rolling Stone report.  ““Rolling Stone’s story, ‘A Rape on Campus,’ did nothing to combat sexual violence, and it damaged serious efforts to address the issue,” she said in part.

“Irresponsible journalism unjustly damaged the reputations of many innocent individuals and the University of Virginia. Rolling Stone falsely accused some University of Virginia students of heinous, criminal acts, and falsely depicted others as indifferent to the suffering of their classmate. The story portrayed university staff members as manipulative and callous toward victims of sexual assault. Such false depictions reinforce the reluctance sexual assault victims already feel about reporting their experience, lest they be doubted or ignored,” Sullivan added.

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Media Beat: Insider guides to Columbia J School’s Rolling Stone Report

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