Sexual assault cases are never easy to cover, and when a university is involved, the challenges become even greater. Victims are sometimes reluctant to talk. Administrators often refuse to do interviews, citing FERPA. But that doesn’t mean these cases are impossible to cover.
At the IRE Conference in San Francisco this summer Walt Bogdanich of The New York Times offered some tips for reporting around FERPA. The first step, he said, is to focus on the system, not the individual. A reporter’s goal shouldn’t be to prove that someone did something wrong. Journalists are better off investigating the policies and groups set up to handle these cases.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal law that protects student education records, is a major roadblock for reporters covering college campuses. But there are exceptions to the law that can help journalists, especially those covering violent or sexual crimes involving students. Samantha Sunne, a former University of Missouri student, explains:
So how do you go about investigating a sexual assault case? Bogdanich walked IRE Conference attendees through his reporting on Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston, who was accused of raping a female student. Bogdanich found that the police and the university failed to conduct a proper investigation.