Most of my days I can barely remember my kids’ names or what I ate for breakfast but reading about the journalism fiasco involving Rolling Stone magazine and a retracted gang rape story involving a University of Virginia fraternity a twenty-three-year-old memory waved over me and the details reminded of what I believe in to my core.
In early 1992, I was working as a news reporter and producer for two Tuscaloosa radio stations. I was nearing the end of my undergraduate degree in Communications and starting my third year as a working journalist. A friend of a friend told me about a failed drug test of a University of Alabama (where I was enrolled) athlete and it’s alleged cover-up by the school’s powerful athletic forces. My editor, a fellow reporter, and one of my station’s ombudsmen help me fact check and vet the sources. Three days later I had everything for a blockbuster presentation that would have “made me” in the business at the young age of twenty-one. All I needed was one of the sources to go on record and the actual dirty drug test. At the eleventh hour my star whistleblower got cold feet and my story was sunk. We had to kill it because the standards of the day dictated so and no one even thought about going forward.
What makes Rolling Stone’s admission that their reporters and editors didn’t fact check their tale or investigate their main source, an alleged sexual assault victim, so egregious is that in less than a generation, this is even possible. The usual hand-wringing from media-haters make it sound like Rolling Stone’s yellow journalism is common.
It is not.
Seriously, put your faces close to the screen and get what I’m trying to convey to you.
It is not common. Rolling Stone’s bad journalism is not usual.
For over 15 years, on a full and or part-time basis, I’ve worked around the media as reporter, producer, copy writer, blogger, web site owner, or freelance writer. I promise you what I went through in 1992 is the way journalism works and most people in the business are sickened by what’s happened with Rolling Stone. I never once saw someone fake a story or run with something they knew wasn’t true.
That incident from my college days was one of maybe a dozen stories that were dashed because of poor sourcing, lack of evidence or just not enough to run with. You dropped the chase, kept the names on your rolodex, then moved on to the next thing. The majority of reporters do this, most journalism works this way.
For all the sayers of nay out there who will tell you we are in a downward spiral concerning media, I counter with, oh shut up and pay attention.
Sure, opinion and arguing and bloggers who want click bait make the most noise but the maximum amount of information is well-researched, impeccably written, and gorgeously presented but because we want eye-candy gratification we don’t talk about it as much as the other.
Rolling Stone lowered themselves but journalism is fine. It’s still be practiced but you have to have the want to and the need to go find it. Everything else is stone cold crazy.