As a student-run publication, it is our duty to inform you about your campus – no matter how difficult the subject matter may be. We work hard to make sure these stories are not only covered, but covered correctly.
When reporting on sensitive topics, we can learn from other journalists’ mistakes. In recent news, Rolling Stone magazine retracted the article “A Rape on Campus” by reporter Sabrina Erdely on an alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity. Shortly after the initial article was published last November, The Washington Post and many reporters began to question the events described in the article, as well as Erdely’s reporting methods. The article soon became a topic of national discussion regarding how to report on sexual assault allegations without harming survivors or others involved.
To figure out how the inaccurate article reached publication, Rolling Stone reached out to Steve Coll, dean of the Columbia School of Journalism (CSJ), to assemble a team to dissect what went wrong. They assessed the article and Erdely’s reporting in “Rolling Stone and UVA: The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Report.”
Will Dana, managing editor of Rolling Stone, explained in an editor’s note on the published report, “This report was painful reading, to me personally and to all of us at Rolling Stone. It is also, in its own way, a fascinating document – a piece of journalism ... about a failure of journalism.”
In this case, journalism did fail at every stage of the process. From the reporter to the fact-checkers and editors, each stage skipped necessary steps to produce a piece of sound journalism.
Though the original article was written with the intention of creating a dialogue about sexual assault on college campuses, it was instead met with backlash and has since been discredited. The CSJ report explained, “Because questioning a victim’s account can be traumatic, counselors have cautioned journalists to allow survivors some control over their own stories ... Yet it does survivors no good if reporters documenting their cases avoid rigorous practices of verification. That may only subject the victim to greater scrutiny and skepticism.”
Instead of uncovering a shocking story of an alleged rape on UVA’s campus and shedding light on the issue of sexual assault, Erdely’s article tarnished the reputation of a UVA fraternity and the university’s administration, and it may have since prevented victims from speaking out, in fear that they would be dismissed. All articles that cover sensitive subjects like sexual assault should be met with the utmost journalistic integrity to stand up for not only the survivor’s story but the stories of all survivors, while taking steps to make sure the story is factually accurate in its entirety.
This week, the Loyolan has focused many articles around the University’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which is co-sponsored by LMU CARES and Jewish Student Life. The purpose of uncovering these stories is not to offend students, invoke fear or stir up controversy. Rather, we want to explain that sexual assault can happen anywhere, even here.
At the Loyolan, we have taken every precaution to cover these topics with journalistic integrity, allowing survivors to maintain control over their personal accounts while still verifying their stories. After a story is written, our copy editors, section editors and executive board all review the articles, raise questions and concerns and check facts before the story moves to print.
After publication, the last verification process is you – the reader. We encourage you to engage with us on social media, write a letter to the editor or become a contributing writer. We’ve done our best to capture the story and get our message across, but as the reader, it is your job to check us one last time.