A Lesson to All PR Specialists and Journalists

By: Jenna Meltzer

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All public relations specialists know that the first step to writing a feature story for publication is to get multiple primary and secondary sources. The reliance on one person for the basis of a national story is risky and holds a multitude of consequences–Rolling Stone Magazine made this mistake.

On November 19, 2014, Rolling Stone published “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA,” which told the story of a student named Jackie who was gang-raped in the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at the University of Virginia. On December 1, Rolling Stone admitted that they did not speak to any men from the fraternity, and the following day, made the claim that Jackie was a credible source. The magazine said the validity of her story should not be questioned. Three days later, Rolling Stone came out with a statement stating that they misjudged the situation and Jackie’s story may not be entirely true. After a thorough investigation earlier this year, it was confirmed that this story was entirely false.

Sexual assault stories are very difficult to report. It is a personal matter that is hard to disprove, especially when people are retelling traumatizing events that happened to them in the past. However, as PR specialists, it is our job to find physical evidence to back up the story being told. Rolling Stone failed to investigate properly, and instead, relied entirely on Jackie’s words.

Rolling Stone’s mistake offers a lesson for all journalists and PR specialists: always use more than one source for any article or news release. This major publication is currently reaping the consequences that could have been easily avoided if they followed simple journalistic standards. No matter how credible a source seems, never solely rely on it.

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