We’ve been looking at the recent Rolling Stone piece about an alleged gang-rape at the University of Virginia and the failures that came along with that piece. Failures from the editorial staff and especially the reporter have seriously damaged just about everyone involved in the story, from the supposed victim and perpetrators to the readers to other members of Rolling Stone’s staff.
It took about two weeks for Rolling Stone to issue a note to its readers (which was later quietly revised, something that seems unbelievably amateur compared to The Missourian’s policy of always mentioning the ways a story has been changed). My absolute favorite part of that note: “In the face of new information reported by the Washington Post and other news outlets,”.
They just have to straight up say, “In the face of better reporting by anyone but us.”
Of course, the note also comes with some less amusing bits– namely, “we made a judgment – the kind of judgment reporters and editors make every day.”
This is such a write-off of their massive failures; it’s not, “Oh, we messed up big time by failing to factcheck the most basic information like identities,” it’s, “Oh, we’re journalists, we made the call, this was a 50/50 shot of being fine.” I hope I’m not burning any possible bridges, but it’s just unbelievable that this was the best RS could come up with. They simplified their failures into a situation where they just picked the wrong side of the coin.
My disbelief and concern about possible future employment mean nothing compared to the outpour of internet rage.
After we looked at the piece again, I checked if there was a reddit thread about it. Sure enough, in /r/news, there was and it wasn’t pretty.
This is where the internet can be such a blindingly powerful vehicle of opinion– all dissent gets drowned out. Reddit comments become a wall made up of 3000 of the same opinion. People pointing out failures in hindsight and people on the “other side” coming out and agreeing with them.
Internet example: Event A happens, outrage sparked by supporters X and opponents Y. Supporters X fill the comments with harsh condemnations made up of massive blocks of text breaking down everything and sentence fragments expressing simple anger. Every so often, a commenter that declares themselves as a “total opponent Y 100%” but this situation is so outrageous that they had to say so.
Time after time, this wave happens. Eventually it’ll fade and we’ll forget and the internet will yell at the next thing.
But the lingering ripples aren’t as easily forgotten– the spread of reblogs and retweets have issued a solemn decree about unsubscribing and shunning Rolling Stone. The same wave that could’ve rained down on UVA and demanded names and probably blood is not washing over the news organization.
Will Rolling Stone survive the onslaught? Who knows. It’s just another example of how quickly we can drown in this ocean of voices. It’s important we remember that those we rally can just as easily rally against us– the reader has no loyalties and can have no sympathy. That’s not something that can be contested or changed. If we fail to fulfill our responsibility to the truth, then we need to accept that we loosed the dogs on ourselves. Notes that shift the blame or responsibility aren’t the answer. I don’t yet know what the actual response should be though. Here’s hoping I’ll never need it, but I’ve still gotta try to figure it out.