How Columbia Journalism School conducted this investigation

This report is intended as a work of journalism about a failure of journalism. Last November, Rolling Stone published “A Rape on Campus” by Sabrina Rubin Erdely. Its principal narrative recounted a horrible gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity. Early in December, Rolling Stone effectively retracted that narrative. Several weeks later, the magazine contacted the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism about conducting an investigation of what had gone wrong. Rolling Stone provided access to Erdely’s reporting records as well as drafts of the story. The authors enjoyed the freedom to investigate and write about any subject related to “A Rape on Campus” that they judged to be germane and in the public interest. The magazine agreed to publish Columbia’s review in full on its website, after a legal review, but without editing. Rolling Stone also pledged to publish mutually agreed excerpts in its print magazine.

Over several months, the authors conducted interviews and investigations that ranged widely in scope. Yet the final report is not intended to be encyclopedic. The report has several intended purposes. One is to illuminate the key reasons Rolling Stone’s failure was avoidable and to draw lessons. In that respect, the report focuses on several of Rolling Stone’s failures of reporting, editing and supervision but not on every single misstep that might be inventoried. Another purpose of the report is to assess independently and through fresh reporting some of the subjects Rolling Stone covered in the story, beyond Jackie’s account of sexual assault – particularly the timeline of how UVA handled Jackie’s information. The report also addresses how Rolling Stone’s editorial policies might be reconsidered to prevent future failure. And it evaluates how journalists might begin to define best practices when reporting about rape cases on campus or elsewhere.

Rolling Stone’s staff cooperated fully during the review. Coll and Coronel agreed to Rolling Stone’s request not to name the story’s fact-checker in its report on the grounds that she was a junior employee without ultimate decision-making authority. Several participants from the magazine did decline to answer certain questions that they said invaded attorney-client privilege. Neither Columbia nor the authors individually received compensation for the work. Rolling Stone agreed to reimburse expenses.

Sheila Coronel, Steve Coll, and Derek Kravitz wrote this report. Sheila Coronel is Dean of Academic Affairs at the Columbia Journalism School and director of the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism, Steve Coll is the Dean of Columbia Journalism School, and Derek Kravitz is a postgraduate research scholar at Columbia Journalism School.