March 22, 2015
Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner said Columbia would have free rein to review the magazine's "editorial processes." The actions of the writer, Sabrina Rubin Erdely; the editors; and the fact-checkers have all been questioned by critics.
The review is not only important as guidance for the standards that publications and reporters adopt, but also because its recommendations could affect the future willingness of women to come forward following rape. As the press increasingly magnifies such cases for better or for worse -- in both ways, often beyond control, as information freely circulates -- the disputed Rolling Stone story shows how quickly media coverage can drive attitudes and behaviors.
Whether the Columbia review addresses the nature of contemporary media once it leaves an outlet's hands will be interesting to see. As last week's Penn State fraternity incident involving nude photos on Facebook demonstrates, these situations are prevalent enough to warrant a level of care that prioritizes disclosing facts over admonishing perceptions.
The internet, if nothing else, feeds these forms and motives of information sharing. It's probably worth paying attention, then, when global polling by the Pew Research Center finds that people think the Internet is a good influence on education but a bad influence on morality. Answers to many riddles probably reside in that contradiction. In the meantime, note that Columbia's review will be published first in print.