Even though the Columbia Journalism School’s investigation of Rolling Stone’s “A Rape on Campus” found major failures by the writer, editor and fact-checkers, no one at the magazine was disciplined. Do you think someone should have resigned or been fired?
Dylan Skye Aycock, 20, sophomore, Middle Tennessee State University (Murfreesboro, Tenn.)
Aycock is the features editor of Sidelines, the student newspaper at Middle Tennessee State University, where she is a journalism major. She is also a contributing music writer for the Murfreesboro Pulse, a monthly print and online publication.
A journalist’s top priority should always be to produce fair and accurate content and fact-check each line until the story boasts complete journalistic integrity. This basic skill is the foundation of every journalism school’s curriculum and is expected of all reporters in the professional field, as well.
The request is simple, however, as Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism has recently unveiled, Rolling Stone’s “A Rape on Campus” failed to uphold reputable industry standards, calling it “a story of journalistic failure that was avoidable.”
Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the article’s author, instilled an innate level of trust in the story’s subject, “Jackie,” and her recollections, but even the strongest faith should not have voided her journalistic responsibilities. A journalist must be objective, especially when reporting on an issue that confirms his or her preconceptions, and consider each side of the story.
The errors made by Erdely and other editorial members were severe enough to personally call upon one of the country’s most respected graduate programs for review, and such mistakes typically evoke serious consequences. Embarrassment alone cannot be justified as an appropriate punishment.
While Rolling Stone doesn’t have to fire anyone, no one has to believe any story they publish, either. This is why appropriate action must be taken to rebuild its credibility.
Although it helps that the magazine was willing to have a thorough report of its failures, that’s simply not enough. If no one is fired or resigns, I believe those responsible should explain their actions, either in print or during an open forum held at the university. It’s avoidable mistakes like this that diminish the respect most journalists work diligently to protect.
Greg Lemon, 38, editor, Helena (Mont.) Independent Record
Lemon is the editor of the Helena Independent Record in Helena, Mont. In his career, he has covered natural resources, politics and small town news for both print and digital outlets in several communities in Montana.
In the past 10 years, the shifts within mainstream media have been monumental. Newsrooms at magazines and newspapers, both large and small, have been cut back in an effort to save profits. And our audience has shifted too.
But you’ve heard all this before. If there was a support group for used-to-be journalists or editors, all their stories would start this way. It’s painful and it’s alarming.
The changes in the media industry have led, at times, to a loosening of journalistic standards in some monumental examples, the Rolling Stone being the most recent. This may be due more to a changing culture that feeds off of controversy and conflict, shock and awe, than the evolution of the media industry. But it may also be a chicken and egg thing. Our culture and our media are intertwined.
The pursuit of journalism as a trade and a craft can get lost as editors, like me, push for more readers and expanded audience. These days news is instant. It’s Twitter and Facebook and blogs and websites. And sometimes the pursuit of audience can blind you to the real purpose of your craft.
Should someone at Rolling Stone take the fall for the mammoth mistakes in “A Rape on Campus?” I say no. They deserve a chance to remake their credibility. And as readers and fellow journalists, we need to see this redemption process play out. It would be too easy to simply wipe the slate clean.
However, we should all take this example as another important lesson into why we double check sources, push to talk to more people, and stare at controversy with an unblinking eye. Getting it right is still—and will always be—more important that getting it big or getting it first.