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university of idaho
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Questioning Morals of a Student Journalist Covering the UI Homicide

Questioning Morals of a Student Journalist Covering the UI Homicide

Commentary by Mikayla Finnerty

I am a student at Washington State University, a university that is not even 10 miles away from the recent homicides of four students from the University of Idaho. 

As a journalist, and managing editor of the school paper, I have covered this story ever since WSU sent this alert to its students: “Moscow Police Department investigating homicide near University of Idaho campus. Not aware of any threat to the WSU Pullman Community.”

But as a student, I was terrified. So many questions ran through my brain, and still do, with the minimal information that has been given to the public by officials. 

My team at the Daily Evergreen continues to report on the investigation, but, as rumors and misinformation spread online, it’s hard to not feel consumed and suffocated.

New information comes out every day, and it is my job to differentiate what is false and true, and how to approach that accordingly.

I have never been a religious person. I am more of a spiritual person. But I do have my own moral compass I follow and a line of ethics that I try and stick to. 

When people around me tried to pressure our staff into interviewing family members of the victims to get ahead of the national news, I immediately knew this was wrong. ‘Let’s give it some time,’ I said. 

Days later, family members began to speak to the media, one of them being the sister of one of the victims who was a WSU student. 

I have never been more conflicted morally and ethically than I have these past two weeks as a student journalist covering the homicide in Idaho. 

Mikayla Finnerty

“Why didn’t we get to her sooner?” higher-ups asked me. And to that I said because it didn’t feel right. I wanted to leave time for family members to mourn, and I didn’t want to exploit them for my own personal gain.

I have never been more conflicted morally and ethically than I have these past two weeks as a student journalist covering the homicide in Idaho. 

On one hand, I have my career. The things I have learned going to press conferences and handling breaking news have been so beneficial to me as a journalist. But on the other hand, I am a student, who is the same age as the victims and has empathy for the family and the students at UI. 

How can I do my job effectively and compete with national news, while staying morally true to myself? 

Yesterday, I was offered a proposition. Go to Ethan Chapin’s funeral as a reporter for a national news organization. What an opportunity. But I would have to go as a journalist, not a fellow student. And I would have had to take notes on the service, knowing that the family didn’t want me there.

I couldn’t do it. And I didn’t. I knew that ethically it was wrong to intrude on a grieving family’s funeral, especially of a victim who was murdered so gruesomely and has been splattered all over the media. 

It was a situation that as journalists we face all the time, to put our morals aside and report on the next biggest story, at any cost for the public.

My job as a reporter is to tell the truth for the public on the investigation of this homicide, but my ethical obligation and wish as a student is that the families are respected and that the students take care of each other during this time.

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