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Poynter Gives Rolling Stone Rape Story 'Error of the Year' Award

By    |   Thursday, 18 December 2014 11:25 PM

The Poynter Institute has tagged Rolling Stone's article about an alleged rape at the University of Virginia, a story that has come into question, with its "Error of the Year" award.

The organization released its list of 2014 awards on its website Thursday.

"It should go down as one of the most cautionary tales of confirmation bias in journalism. It's also an example of how not to behave when your organization publishes a disastrous piece of reporting," Poynter wrote.

The Rolling Stone article centered on a female student who claimed she was gang raped by seven male students at a frat party when she was a freshman in 2012. The story's author, however, did not seek comment from any of the seven men at the alleged victim's request.

After the story was published, the piece came under fire for a lack of sourcing. The facts were called into question.

"The story initially catalyzed the university and people around the country to do more to stamp out sexual assault on campus," Poynter wrote. The school even placed a temporary ban on all frats."

From there, however, the story began to unravel. Other news outlets asked why the reporter did not interview any of the alleged rape victim's close friends or the men she accused.

"Campus rape is a serous issue and deserves attention, but Rolling Stone and its reporter cherry picked this story and failed to properly verify it," Poynter wrote.

Sabrina Rubin Erdely, who wrote the article, was interviewed by Slate and had this to say about the story:

"First I looked around at a number of different campuses. It took me a while to figure out where I wanted to focus on. But when I finally decided on the University of Virginia — one of the compelling reasons that made me focus on the University of Virginia was when I found Jackie. I made contact with a student activist at the school who told me a lot about the culture of the school — that was one of the important things, sort of criteria that I wanted when I was looking for the right school to focus on."

Rolling Stone managing editor Will Dana published an editor's note that now appears above the original story on the magazine's website. In it, he pointed to the agreement the magazine had with the alleged victim, named Jackie, of not contacting any of the story's key figures as the problem.

"We should have not made this agreement with Jackie and we should have worked harder to convince her that the truth would have been better served by getting the other side of the story," Dana wrote. "These mistakes are on Rolling Stone, not on Jackie. We apologize to anyone who was affected by the story and we will continue to investigate the events of that evening."

Poynter closed its brief write-up about the controversial story with what it feels Rolling Stone did wrong.

"[Rolling Stone] has not offered any real information about how the story was fact checked, where mistakes were made, and what it plans to do about it," Poynter wrote. "It hunkered down and kept silent. Shameful."

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The Poynter Institute has tagged Rolling Stone's article about an alleged rape at the University of Virginia, a story that has come into question, with its "Error of the Year" award.
rolling stone, rape, article, poynter institute, journalism
Thursday, 18 December 2014 11:25 PM
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