The Columbia Graduate School of Journalism published an independent report on April 5, commissioned by Rolling Stone, about a brutal gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity that widely discredited the magazine’s journalistic practices.
The article, “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA,” which was published on Nov. 19, 2014, was the magazine’s attempt to “sound an alarm about campus sexual assault [that] would challenge University of Virginia and other universities to do better,” according to the report.
However, the report concluded that the piece was a result of failures at every stage of the reporting process. The report was written by Columbia J-School Dean Steven Coll, Dean of Academic Affairs Sheila Coronel and Postgraduate Research Scholar at the J-school Derek Kravitz.
Although managing editor of Rolling Stone Will Dana admitted the failure took place on individual, procedural and institutional levels, all the editors along with the reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, agreed the main fault was being “too accommodating of [the victim] Jackie because she described herself as the survivor of a terrible sexual assault.”
The report illustrated the sensitivity attached to the investigation of rape and sexual assault; in this case when a reporter relied too heavily on the account of the victim and produced an underdeveloped presentation of facts.
Coll, Coronel and Kravitz said the Columbia report expands on the pressing “need for a more considered understanding and debate among journalists and others about the best practices for reporting on rape survivors as well as on sexual assault allegations that have not been adjudicated.”
Sophomore English major Ella Leviyeva said the controversy contributed to a “culture of uncertainty surrounding the media and its factual validity.”
Although the magazine sought out a report from Columbia, Leviyeva said it seemed more like an attempt to salvage their reputation after “flaws and holes were revealing themselves.”
Senior journalism major Sarah Hermina said the issue undermined the expectation for journalists to get the facts right.
“There’s so much to be said about accurate and objective reporting,” Hermina said. “Anything less than that can be damaging to the reputation of potentially innocent journalists.”