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Rolling Stone farms out review of U-Va. rape story to Columbia Journalism School

Garrett Durig, a fourth-year student at the University of Virginia, walks across campus on Dec. 6 in Charlottesville. (Jay Paul/Getty Images)

Rolling Stone magazine has decided to enlist the Columbia Journalism School to audit its handling of a discredited Nov. 19 story about rape on the campus of the University of Virginia, according to a just-released statement from Editor and Publisher Jann S. Wenner, which reads as follows:

In RS 1223, Sabrina Rubin Erdely wrote about a brutal gang rape of a young woman named Jackie at a party in a University of Virginia frat house [“A Rape on Campus”]. Upon its publication, the article generated worldwide attention and praise for shining a light on the way the University of Virginia and many other colleges and universities across the nation have tried to sweep the issue of sexual assault on campus under the rug. Then, two weeks later, The Washington Post and other news outlets began to question Jackie’s account of the evening and the accuracy of Erdely’s reporting. Immediately, we posted a note on our website, disclosing the concerns. We have asked the Columbia Journalism School to conduct an independent review – headed by Dean Steve Coll and Dean of Academic Affairs Sheila Coronel – of the editorial process that led to the publication of this story. As soon as they are finished, we will publish their report.

In recent weeks, sources in that story have been contacted by Rolling Stone reporters as part of an attempt to piece together what went wrong with the story. Melissa Bruno, a spokeswoman for the magazine, wrote to the Erik Wemple Blog last week that Rolling Stone was “conducting a thorough internal review of the reporting, editing, and fact-checking of Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s ‘A Rape on Campus.’ Once we have concluded this process, we will have comment on these and other questions.”

It’s unclear at this point what prompted Rolling Stone to bring in the Columbia Journalism School. When asked about that matter, Coronel suggested that the Erik Wemple Blog ask the magazine.

As to when the review would be completed, Coronel said that she and Coll will be cranking on it over the holidays but they don’t have a deadline. Work on the audit commenced just a few days ago, says Coronel. Key facts about the report:

*Columbia Journalism School was approached by Wenner about this project, says Coronel — not the other way around.

*Rolling Stone has already turned over “a lot of files” to the Columbia Journalism School team, which includes a researcher as well as Coll and Coronel. “They’ve given us the interviews, the e-mail, a lot of other things,” says Coronel. “We have a lot.”

*The Columbia Journalism School team will conduct interviews with Rolling Stone personnel involved in the story. It’s not yet clear who or how many.

*The report that results from the audit will be released to the public via the Rolling Stone website, and a smaller version will appear in the print version of the magazine, says Coronel.

*Coronel and Coll will not be paid for their efforts. “We’re doing it on our own time,” says Coronel.

*The ambit of the study covers the “reporting and editorial decision-making process,” says Coronel. When asked whether that means it’ll examine the text of the story in detail, Coronel wasn’t sure. “We don’t know what we’re going to do yet,” she said.