To: All staff
From: Nick Denton & Ezra Klein
Re: Rules of social justice journalism
Welcome to [BuzzFeed/Vox/Gawker]!
Today is an exciting time in your life. You are about to embark on a journey into a brave new world.
As you are new here, we’d like to introduce you to our Guide to Social Justice Journalism. We co-wrote this guide with input from our friends at BuzzFeed, Vox, and Gawker. Even though we are ostensibly competitors, we share a commitment to social justice.
This style guide shows you how to write articles for our websites. In this Memo you’ll learn how to report on high-profile rape accusations.
When in doubt, remember: “Men need to feel a cold spike of fear when they begin a sexual encounter.”
While we respect your creativity, it’s important to understand that these are not optional guidelines to follow.
Our job is to fight oppression. This means we do have a viewpoint. Nick explained to Gawker writers, for example, that one can make fun of “funny” names unless talking about a black person’s name.
Yes, there are rules to social justice journalism. Follow them.
In this Memo you will see how we apply these guidelines to a recent high-profile rape accusation that adult actress Stoya made against James Deen.
- Summary: Begin by saying we must believe women. Throw in some facts about the actual rape accusation. Add in some stats about rape culture. Finally, cover your butt by observing that even inaccurate (do not call them false) rape accusation bring awareness to the horrible problem of rape culture.
Step 1. BEGIN WITH A PUNCH, “I BELIEVE WOMEN.”
We are hell raisers, so come out swinging! “I believe women” is an edgy position to take. Swing hard!
For the Stoya case, you could begin with:
In a patriarchy, the most courageous act a woman can take is to speak out. The second most courageous act is to LISTEN and BELIEVE women who speak out.
When a woman claims she was raped, I believe her. I believe women.
Stoya has accused adult actor James Deen of rape. She is telling the truth.
That will get the reader’s attention. It will also signal to readers that you are brave, as calling a man a rapist is courageous.
Step 2. INSERT RAPE STATS.
It is NOT your job to determine whether these stats are valid. You can use any of the following statistics in your article:
- One-in-four women are the victims of rape.
- Over 25% claim to have been victims of sexual assault.
- Rape is the most underreported crime in the world.
- Studies have shown that fewer than 2% of rape accusations are deemed false.
- Over 98% of rape accusations are true, according to researchers who have studied the issue.
You want to appear to authority. When possible write, “Studies have shown,” and “Research proves.” Don’t worry. No one will ask you for copies of those studies, and no one would read them even if provided them.
Applying these statistics to Stoya’s rape accusation against James Deen, you might write:
Refusing to believe a woman who claims she was raped has a 98% chance of being incorrect.
It’s both an act of moral cowardice and unreasonable to not believe Stoya.
Step 3. INSERT LINE ABOUT AWARENESS (CYA).
There are rare cases where a woman’s rape accusation was not supported by the evidence. We usually stop reporting on those cases (Rolling Stone/UVa, Hofstra, Duke lacrosse, etc.) altogether.
Sometimes it’s good to address the risk that the evidence does not support a rape accusation in advance.
You could write:
Rape is the most underreported crime in the U.S. While there are rare cases where the evidence does not support the accusation, even mistaken accusations of rape raise awareness about rape and give women the courage to speak out. By Tweeting her rape accusation, Stoya has inspired millions of women.
NEVER call a rape accusation false. False rape accusations do not exist. Use words like “mistake,” “inaccurate,” and “unknown.”
You could also say, “While some have raised doubts about Stoya’s accusations, the truth is that she has raised awareness of a serious issue.”
Step 4. CONGRATULATIONS!
We have an important job. We don’t just cover the news. We make it!
P.S. We will be issuing Memos on other stories important to social justice journalism. Stay tuned!