Debacle

Should the managing editor and the reporter involved in the retracted Rolling Stone story be fired?

Journalism experts weigh in on whether Rolling Stone is really upholding accountability

Rolling Stone logo
Rolling Stone

In its 12,000-word postmortem of Rolling Stone‘s discredited “A Rape on Campus” story, the Columbia School of Journalism found evidence of a systematic breakdown in journalistic processes, a failure that “encompassed reporting, editing, editorial supervision and fact-checking.”

Rolling Stone managing editor Will Dana apologized, saying “Sexual assault is a serious problem on college campuses, and it is important that rape victims feel comfortable stepping forward. It saddens us to think that their willingness to do so might be diminished by our failings.”

Yet, not one person involved with the story has lost their job for having made “grave errors in judgment.” It would seem that the magazine’s publisher, Jann Wenner, is doing precisely what Rolling Stone had accused the administration of UVA of doing in the face of rape accusations made by students at the school: very little or nothing to hold anyone accountable.

We asked several journalism professors and experts in the field to weigh in on whether key players in the botched story should be fired. Some pointed us to their remarks on Twitter or elsewhere. Others simply made their statements on social media, which we’ve gathered. Here are some of the top points of view we discovered from influential voices:

Jay Rosen, professor of journalism at New York University

Excerpt from a blog post on his website Press Think:

“The editors invested Rolling Stone’s reputation in a single source,” says the report. I think they’re right. Will Dana, managing editor of Rolling Stone, says they’re wrong:

Mr. Dana said he had reached many of the same conclusions as the Columbia report in his own efforts to examine the article, but he disagreed with the report’s assertion that the magazine had staked its reputation on the word of one source. “I think if you take a step back, our reputation rests on a lot more than this one story,” he said.

The point is not that your reputation accumulated over time rests on one story, but that one story at the wrong time can ruin it. I’d want my managing editor to understand that. Wouldn’t you?”

Clay Shirky, professor of journalism at New York University

Jessica Valenti, columnist at The Guardian

Adam L. Penenberg, professor of journalism at New York University

Michael Calderone, senior media reporter at The Huffington Post, adjunct professor at New York University

Emily Bell, Director of Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia School of Journalism

Bill Handy, coordinator of Medill’s Global Journalism Residency Program at Northwestern University

“Management decisions (such as who should be fired) are generally more complex than they may seem to outsiders. Also, it can be difficult to separate people from process. So, without far more information than I can have as an observer in Chicago, I’m not comfortable answering the question.

But … serious bad stuff happened at Rolling Stone, and its publisher needs to do whatever is necessary and fair to fix things.​”

 

Related:

Rolling Stone shame: Mag retracts UVA rape story, apologizes for ‘journalistic failure’

The unravelling of the UVA rape story is bad for journalism, not feminism

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