Sean Woods, the principal editor on the story, said “Sabrina’s a writer I’ve worked with for so long, have so much faith in, that I really trusted her judgment in finding Jackie credible…I asked her a lot about that, and she always said she found her completely credible.” I understand the importance of having a decent work environment, part of which entails good feelings among employees. But isn’t it possible to respect reporters’ work, to think highly of their quality after having observed it over years, even to have warm feelings toward them – can’t all that exist without relying on faith and trust for quality control?
Right? I don’t like having my shit ripped apart by nitpicky editors but the one thing newspaper journalism beat out of me was the idea that I couldn’t be challenged on anything. Nobody is supposed to have inherent authority or be beyond questioning. There should be a radical equality in the editing room, and if your intern has a point, then she damn well has a point and who cares if you’re 50 and she’s still in school?
But turning journalism from a trade into a profession made it all-important what your credentials were, and if you had the right ones — the right schools, the right recommendations, the right work history — you were presumed to be good. It was a checkbox. It was shorthand, a way of assessing somebody without having to really know them: This person is trustworthy because they did X, Y and Z.
And what that does is it creates the club, and inside the club, everybody’s okay and nobody should have to stand for scrutiny. It’s ridiculous, it’s antithetical to everything a newsroom is supposed to be, and it’s so, so understandable. She’s a solid reporter. Nothing she’s ever done has been fucked up before.
Well of course not. It never is, until it is. It’s not like you start out making mistakes.
(On this clusterfuck in general: As in most journalistic takedowns of journalism, there was a lot of jerking off in the Rolling Stone story: Woe is us, and here are details of that woe, and let us talk more about ourselves and not about, you know, campus rape.
One of the things that infuriated me about the aftermath of the Rape on Campus story and all its responses was the re-focusing of the story from how the campus system handled rape to how this one particular girl was raped. How and when and by whom.
I am not saying those details were not important. But they were not the only thing the story was about. Yet after the story came out suddenly we were talking about whether one girl lied about her rape. We were not talking about whether hundreds or even thousands of girls were raped, and didn’t or felt they couldn’t report it, or had their cases “handled” by some bullshit pseudo-judiciary system designed to keep the cops and lawyers away, or were discouraged by the cops from ruining the reputation of some nice, rich fraternity boy.
We were talking about one girl, and not what she represented, in that story or otherwise.
I wonder in whose interests it was, to have us all talk about that one girl, who was powerless. I wonder in whose interests it was, to steer us toward her story, and not the story of the powerful.)
Like confirmation bias, this is an issue at every publication – not just those that have a reputation for leaning one way or the other. How do you make a newsroom work when you need to reconcile two seemingly contradictory needs – the need for the team to have at least ostensibly friendly feelings towards each other and the need for a rigorous editing process that can sometimes be contentious? RS could use this as an opportunity to lead the way on new approaches.
This is my own experience talking, but we had knock-down drag-outs in my old newsrooms and we all loved each other fiercely and limitlessly. I mean people would yell and throw stuff and how dare you at each other, and the next day when the story came out and it was good nobody even remembered how awful they’d been. There were resentments and there was bad blood and when the chips were down everybody just put it aside. I mean, how you make it work is you hire a bunch of grown-ups and they get over themselves or they don’t and you don’t care.
If your reporter’s delicate feelings are going to be hurt by an editor saying, “Hey, please do a little more digging on this because holy shit, it needs to be airtight,” maybe your reporter needs to go back to school.