New York Magazine’s latest cover story is a stunner. Titled, “The Stolen Kids of Sarah Lawrence,” it chronicles a group of sophomore students who fell under the sway of a classmate’s father who, after being released from prison, allegedly moved into his daughter’s dorm room and began to slowly manipulate her and her roommates until he had almost total control over their lives. Increasingly, the students found themselves in an untenable situation—as the father, a man named Larry Ray, became hostile and conspiratorial; once, he allegedly instigated a scenario that involved one victim penetrating himself with a dildo. (Ray denied “almost every assertion” in New York’s article through his lawyer.)
The story is full of intimate details of the harrowing experience of a group of college students; it’s designed to linger in your mind well after reading. But it’s strange that nowhere in this mammoth retelling—it’s over 9,000 words—does New York mention that how the magazine came upon the story: one of the authors, Ezra Marcus, who graduated from Sarah Lawrence in 2014, was a classmate of Ray’s alleged victims.
In all fairness, New York disclosed the co-author’s affiliation in a press release, which is linked to the bottom of story, for those who make it through to the very end. But it’s a crucial detail, especially given the extremely small size of Sarah Lawrence; there were 330 undergraduate students in Marcus’s graduating class, according to the university website. Another Sarah Lawrence alumni, Mariah Smith, who formerly wrote for New York Mag’s The Cut, pointed out the insular nature of her alma mater on Twitter. “SLC is small. Very small,” she wrote, “Which means, even if you didn’t know anyone personally, you could no doubt pick out their face in anyones lineup.”
According to a spokesperson for New York Mag, Marcus did not know any of the story’s subjects while he was a student at Sarah Lawrence. That spokesperson offered the following explanation: “the editors did not think this detail was necessary to include in the story itself, but knowing that there would be questions about how such a complicated story was reported, the accompanying post was planned to go up in tandem.”
Yet this detail—Marcus’s first-hand knowledge of the tiny community where Ray first met his would-be followers—is a crucial detail for readers. It’s a common practice in journalism to disclose any relationship between subject and source, even if those threads are tenuous and indirect. This standard rule is sometimes dropped in feature writing in service of an uninterrupted narrative. But Sarah Lawrence college is a small school, and the social topography of a place where most students likely knew of each other could have influenced Marcus’s approach to reporting, the way his own sources perceived him, and how their accounts were folded into the final piece. By leaving out Marcus’s relationship to Sarah Lawrence, Marcus and his co-author, James Walsh make an omission that makes a complicated story difficult to fully understand.