Students Respond to Rolling Stone Article Journalism Review

Posted: Updated: Apr 20, 2015 12:49 PM

People are reacting to Columbia School of Journalism's review of the Rolling Stone magazine article that focused on an alleged sexual assault at the University of Virginia. In the review, Columbia found what they call "a failure that was avoidable."Rolling Stone magazine retracted the November article about the alleged gang rape of a woman called "Jackie" and apologized. The review of the journalism behind the story found Rolling Stone writers and editors failed to reach out to other sources to verify the story. The deans found the article a failure of reporting, editing, editorial supervision and fact checking.

The article claims Jackie met up with three friends near the Phi Kappa Psi house after being brutally gang raped. The Columbia investigation reveals that author Sabrina Rubin Erdely never reached out to those friends to verify this part of the story.

One of those people mentioned in the story - who wasn't contacted - is UVA student Ryan Duffin who was a friend of Jackie's. Erdely says she asked Jackie about talking to Duffin, and Jackie told her he refused because he was worried about tarnishing the Greek system's reputation. He says this conversation never happened.

“The fact that I'm in a fraternity would by no means prevented me from talking to Rolling Stone. I really wish that they had reached out to me from the get-go because if they had reached out to me they would've had a much better article that would have been subject to this scrutiny because all of the discrepancies would've been taken care of before the article was published," he said.

Ryan says it's unfortunate that so much fell through the cracks at Rolling Stone because sexual assault is still an important issue at UVA that needs to be covered with honesty. 

Neglecting to reach out to Ryan is one of the many reasons the Columbia Journalism Review is calling the article an avoidable failure in journalism.

The Columbia review says "the magazine's failure may have spread the idea that many women invent rape allegations." One woman who was quoted in the original Rolling Stone article says she is still frustrated, because she feels the damage and hurt felt in the university community could have been prevented. Alex Pinkleton says Erdely and Rolling Stone still need to take more accountability. She feels they need to go further than saying relying on "Jackie" was a mistake, saying it was their responsibility to verify the story before publishing it.

"I almost feel like they're taking the criticism and saying 'ok we'll do better next time.' Well, I think the public - and especially the UVA community - would like to see tangibly how are you going to avoid these mistakes in the future because you really did cause a lot of pain to our community,” she stated.

Pinkleton feels Erdely had a preconceived notion for the story before listening to what Pinkleton and others had to say. She worries people will doubt future survivors because of the discrepancies in Jackie's story.

"I'm not sure what really happened, but it's clear that protecting a survivor doesn't mean not verifying the story," Pinkleton said.

UVA's student body president Abraham Axler says he feels the article damaged the reputations of UVA faculty, administration, and the fraternity where the alleged gang rape happened but he says the university can overcome what's happened.

“I think for our community to heal broadly, the University of Virginia has to become a national leader on sexual misconduct prevention both at the policy level and at the programmatic level,” he stated.

The president of the UVA's Phi Kappa Psi fraternity says they are still reviewing the report.

Some students who report for WUVA media are especially disappointed, because they look up to professional journalists. They say they're also upset that Erdely seems to reference expressions and songs about rape in the article that they have never heard.

"I've never heard the phrase ‘UVrApe,' and I've never heard the lyrics to the ‘Rugby Road Song.' Even if you take ‘Jackie' out of this account, Sabrina Erdely still misrepresented UVA and its students. As a journalist, she has a responsibility to get big news right. Not just because of the immediate story at hand, but because her coverage shaped the conversation that followed and I think she got it wrong," said UVA student journalist Catherine Valentine.

Valentine says this investigation also spotlights the importance of ethics when reporting on tough topics like rape. She says even if Erdely was trying not to re-traumatize a survivor by pushing too hard, the reporter still harmed Jackie and survivors everywhere by damaging their credibility.

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