As I’m writing this blog post, I am listening to Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” out of its sheer irony in relation to this topic. However, Dylan’s song surprisingly resonated with my post. He sings a line that I think all readers of journalism will be able to relate to: “How does it feel/to be on your own?” Because, truly, we are all on our own when it comes to deciphering news. We must take everything we read with a grain of salt, because who knows what is fact and what is fiction?
Today in class, we discussed the article written by Sabrina Rubin Erdely in the Dec. 4, 2014, issue of Rolling Stone. This article received a lot of criticism and was the cause for multiple lawsuits against the magazine from the University of Virginia and the fraternity Phi Kappa Psi. This journalistic mess is frankly an insult to the field.
Discussing the article and the mistakes made by the journalist, Professor Cumming informed us that Erdely was on a mission to find a specific story for the magazine. He argued that this could have made her more likely to believe the victim’s words directly as stated without getting another point of view because the victim’s tragic story fit Erdely’s mission perfectly.
However, Professor Cumming also presented the issue of ethics as far as a rape story is concerned. How does a reporter sensitively question the story that a rape victim tells? Personally, I would feel very shady and unsympathetic if I listened to a victim’s gruesome nightmare of a story and then made her think I didn’t trust her version of the truth.
On the other hand, isn’t that a journalist’s job — to make sure information is accurate? More times than not, people are going to get annoyed with you as a journalist, because people aren’t necessarily itching to reveal their private lives to the world. Just look at the response the paparazzi receives.
In order to avoid professional, legal, and other issues, journalists are required to be over a hundred percent certain on the accuracy of their story. While Erderly was not the only one to blame for this mess, as the fact-checking team and editor dropped the ball as well, these facts should have been verified.
I learned in Journalism 101 last semester the journalist’s responsibility is to the public. Rolling Stone was not fulfilling its responsibility when their journalists did not ensure that their readers were getting entirely accurate information. It is our responsibility to ensure the journalists of the future, whether that be us or others, treat the public as their number one priority.
— Anna Linthicum