Writing Lessons from Rolling Stone & Buzzfeed’s Faux Pas

Rolling Stone Magazine retracted an article it published about a gang rape at a fraternity at UVA last month for “numerous flaws and errors in the reporting.” The online magazine Buzzfeed recently took down older posts because of “a lack of journalistic standards.” These egregious errors on the part of these popular online and in print media can be used as lessons to teach writing to our students.  Students need models to help understand what to do and not to do when it comes to writing.

1. Check the Facts – The biggest issue with the Rolling Stone article is that the facts were “incorrect.” As a writer, one loses all credibility without accurate and factual evidence to support one’s claim. Make sure evidence (examples, statistics, and testimony) comes from reliable and credible sources.

2. Not All Evidence is Equal – Some evidence is stronger than other evidence. Choose the strongest evidence that is going to support the claim. Make sure that all information and support material shared holds it’s weight.

3. Author’s Purpose – Is the author trying to persuade, inform, or entertain? Identify the author’s purpose to understand the intention of the essay. The intention helps identify meaning. Know one’s intention before starting to write.

4. Everything is Slanted – There is no such thing as an unbiased perspective. Everything has bias, things are left out, omitted, or silenced. As a writer one needs to be aware of one’s biases and be upfront about them for the reader. Help the reader uncover the slant, offer counter claims within argumentative papers.

5. Learn From Other’s Mistakes – The wonderful thing about writing is that one can edit and revise to make writing better, stronger, clearer, and more concise. Look at models and exemplars to know what is effective and what is not.

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