The report is out: Rolling Stone made serious errors and lapses in judgment in its Nov. 19 story about an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia, according to a review conducted by Columbia's journalism school. But who is Steve Coll, the Columbia School of Journalism dean who headed the damning report? Though recently put at the helm of Columbia's graduate journalism school, the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner has a storied career in reporting, writing, and editing.
Coll began his career as a staff writer for California magazine, but much of his journalism tenure was with The Washington Post. In 1985, he began working as a general assignment feature writer for The Washington Post. He then took up a post as a financial correspondent, during which he co-authored a Pulitzer-winning series on the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1990. Coll later moved to New Delhi, where he was appointed as the newspaper's South Asia bureau chief. He headed the Post's Sunday magazine insert as publisher in 1996, before being promoted to managing editor of the newspaper in 1998 and associate editor in 2004. A year later, Coll joined The New Yorker's writing staff and continues to contribute reports on national security and intelligence.
Outside the newsroom, Coll won a second Pulitzer Prize for Ghost Wars, a non-fiction book on the secret history of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Osama Bin Laden that led up to 9/11. He has also written books on the Getty family business following oil tycoon J. Paul Getty's death, travels through South Asia, and the history behind American corporation ExxonMobil. From 2007 to 2012, Coll was director of the non-profit, non-partisan think tank New America Foundation. In 2012, Coll was elected to the Pulitzer Prize board, which is overseen by Columbia University, and was announced the new dean of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in March 2013. A sporadic social media user, Coll, to date, has eight tweets on his official Twitter account.
In December 2014, Rolling Stone asked Columbia's journalism school to conduct an independent review of the editorial decisions made by reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely and its staff regarding its coverage of a UVA student, using the pseudonym Jackie, who claimed that seven men raped her at a fraternity party in September 2012. The story questioned the university's handling of Jackie's case as well as criticized the fraternity Phi Kappa Psi, who allegedly hosted the party where the attack reportedly took place. Coll led the Columbia review, with support from Dean of Academic Affairs Sheila Coronel and research scholar Derek Kravitz.
In the end, the report determined that the Rolling Stone investigation was "a failure that was avoidable." The nearly 13,000-word report said the magazine fell short of verifying Jackie's credibility as well as made numerous reporting, editing, and fact-checking mistakes typically covered in beginner journalism courses. Rolling Stone's UVA story, as well as the investigative review, will undoubtedly become a teaching tool not only used in Columbia's journalism school, but in classes and newsrooms nationwide.
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