Philly Mag editor on mistakes by former staffers: ‘I’ve been surprised by what’s happened’

PhillySunday

What do the authors of Rolling Stone’s discredited story about rape allegations and the University of Virginia and New York magazine’s story about a high schooler with phantom millions in stock trades have in common?

Both the authors — Sabrina Rubin Erdely and Jessica Pressler — have spent time as staff writers at Philadelphia Magazine.

“What’s tough with both of these is these are two reporters whose work is highly praised,” editor Tom McGrath told Billy Penn on Thursday afternoon. “I’ve been surprised by what’s happened with both of them.”

McGrath, who joined Philly Mag’s staff in 2003 and became its editor in 2010, says he’s not examining the writers’ work for the magazine in light of the high-profile errors for other publications. And he sounded a note of sympathy talking about Erdely and Pressler.

“I know both of these writers personally, so I hate to think what they’re going through. The first thing that went through my head was there weren’t any issues (with the stories written for Philadelphia Magazine) where we know people had said ‘there’s an issue here,’” McGrath told Billy Penn, “Certainly on those pieces I worked on with Jessica Pressler, I’m 99 percent sure nothing was fabricated or fundamentally flawed.”

In general, McGrath says, the magazine depends on the public to contact the editors with questions or problems with their work. “My approach has been if people come forward and say this is wrong we’d be happy to look into things to the extent we can do it.”

That gets complicated, McGrath notes, with Erdely’s work — she was a staff writer from 1994-1999, a senior writer from 1999-2005 and a writer-at-large from 2005-2012.

“A national media company raised questions about a 1998 piece,” McGrath said, and he explained “I wasn’t on staff at the time. We hold fact-checking materials for a number of years but not 16 years. I can’t go back that far and do that.”

Meanwhile, Erdely is getting back in touch with her sources on the UVA story — and Pressler was set to take a new job at Bloomberg News.

Thanks for reading another Billy Penn story

Seems you’re the kind of person who really digs in. Want more? Sign up for our free morning newsletter, the easy way to stay on top of Philly news.

Thanks for reading Billy Penn

Like the story above, everything we publish is powered by our members. If you enjoy reading, join today: Just $5/month makes more difference than you’d think.

Thanks for reading! We need you.

Reader donations power our newsroom. If Billy Penn helps you feel more connected to Philly, we’d love to count you as a member. Will you join us?

Lock in your support

Reader support powers our newsroom. A monthly membership helps lock it in.

Can we count on you as a Billy Penn sustainer?

Winning the local journalism game

Thank you: Member support powers our newsroom.

Know someone else who might like our work? Invite them to sign up for our free morning newsletter.