2015 Essay Winner – Radio

Courtney Edwards – attending University of Missouri (Mizzou) in the Fall.

Last day-Courtney

Essay Question: Rolling Stone magazine published a story last July which garnered national attention about a rape on the campus of the University of Virginia. Campus officials were criticized for handling the situation. The fraternity connected to the crime was humiliated. However, it was revealed in April the story was false. The Columbia Journalism Review wrote a 12,000-word report that called the magazine’s story “a journalistic failure” that included lack of reporting, editing and the magazine’s history of using pseudonyms. All of this has prompted a national question about journalism ethics and integrity.

Will readers begin to distrust journalists because of the Rolling Stone story, or did readers already have a sense of distrust toward journalists before this controversy? Why does a story like this hurt journalism? Or does it?

Courtney’s Essay :

When lies are spread, people’s lives and reputations are ruined. Such is the case, when a story, written in the Rolling Stone magazine, about a rape at University of Virginia was published and national attention arose from the topic. When journalists do not uphold a standard of ethics while reporting, they will fall to reporting false information, having unreliable sources, and losing the trust of readers and viewers.

Rolling Stone magazine was not the first to cause a breach of trust between journalists and the public. Instances such as, [1]Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News fabricating a war story or [2]Fox News reporting a false shooting in Baltimore after unrest was still going on are just a few recent instances. These occurrences humanize journalists, but unfortunately cause them to look less credible. Of course, people make mistakes, but as a journalist, we should strive to avoid them. This occurrence is not the first time journalists have been called out because of flawed information; it is just another reason to stir up distrust between journalists and the public. I believe people have already had a sense of distrust towards journalists, but it has grown because of the magnitude of the issue. Accusations of rape are not taken lightly, and in the case of Rolling Stone they should have used all the sources available to them to make sure the story was accurate. “We should have not made this agreement with Jackie [alleged victim] 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.” (Rolling Stone) There are always two sides, or more, to a story; when it comes to making a story public information the writer and editors, must check there sources thoroughly.

Journalists are taught to be ethical. It is one of the key things a journalist learns to be. The Society of Professional Journalists states in their Preamble that “Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity.”(SPJ) A story of this nature hurts journalism, because as a journalist you are taught to check and double check your sources, leaving very little room for error. In the case, of Rolling Stone magazine the writer, editor, and publisher are all at fault, because allegations this serious should have been vetted numerous times in order to avoid the unfortunate situation. A story of this caliber can cause the integrity of the publication to be questioned in the future. Not only, is Rolling Stone Magazine under fire, but journalists’ integrity everywhere are being scrutinized.


Dana, Will. “A Note to Our Readers.” Rolling Stone 5 December 2014.

Langston, Lynn Ph.D. and Sofi Sinozich. Rape And Sexual Assault Among College-Age Females, 1995-2013. 11 December 2014. 27 May 2015 <http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=5176>.

Sigma Delta Chi. SPJ Code of Ethics. 6 September 2014. 26 May 2015 <http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp>.

[1]Brian Williams: New York Times With an Apology, Brian Williams Digs Himself Deeper in Copter Tale   http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/06/business/brian-williamss-apology-over-iraq-account-is-challenged.html

[2] Fox News Conflicting reports on gun incident in Baltimore.

After violent riots broke out over Freddie Grey, Fox reported another shooting.