MN Daily Story a Breach of Ethics

Addison Scufsa

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In February, the University of Minnesota lost a student. Unfortunately, this student’s name has been tarnished and his surviving family’s wishes disregarded with zero respect by the Minnesota Daily.

On April 5, the Daily published an article titled “UMN fraternity member’s death caused by alcohol poisoning.” In the editor’s note before the article, the Daily mentions the following:

“The family of (the University student) and some University of Minnesota officials objected to the publication of this story. It’s the duty of the Minnesota Daily to pursue the truth about important matters within the University community. We are committed to reporting this story with accuracy and fairness.”

It was clear from the beginning that the family’s wishes were not respected by the Daily. Instead, they included unnecessary details, including his name, that served only to harm the family in order to further attack fraternities on campus. Going against the family wishes is a clear breach of ethical journalism standards. 

This is not to say that criticizing fraternities isn’t right. The fraternities on campus should take another look at how they host parties to ensure the safety of those in attendance. Not to mention other valid concerns of abuse, hazing, initiation practices, and rape found across the country. The Penn State story last year of hazing and alcohol resulting in the death of a student was particularly disturbing. 

The objective of criticizing fraternities should not include posting information about a student against the wishes of the family. Especially, highly intrusive information including videos to determine if he had Xs on his hands or interviewing students to obtain the whereabouts and activities of him throughout the night. This is all on top of the fact that the student’s name was included as an unnecessary detail.

Despite being a fantastic student and individual, the Daily relegated positive information about him almost entirely to the end. If you were a parent or sibling, how would you feel about reading a story talking about your son’s death involving alcohol and cocaine resulting in tragedy, while his life accomplishments including organ donation following his death were relegated to a few short paragraphs at the end? 

Senior Jordan Anderson summed up these thoughts perfectly in a letter to the Minnesota Daily on April 9. 

“I find this article incredibly disrespectful, irresponsible and devoid of any information of use to the University of Minnesota community.”

The article, as a whole, contributes nothing of real substance, only a jab here and there against frats. The authors attempt to make a deep connection between the student’s death and the fraternity, but end up writing what appears to be a shameful, intrusive investigation into a man’s death, while mocking the family’s wishes throughout. The Daily even wrote a follow up editorial about the backlash they received. In it they say the following about why they wrote the article in the first place: 

“The Daily article raises other questions that need to be discussed. How often do Greek organizations violate their own underage drinking policies? What is being done to ensure policies are being followed?  What is the University doing to learn how [the student’s] death can help keep other students safe? How prevalent is the use of cocaine at the University?”

Almost every question they ask here was not answered in their original article. Somehow they managed to cause more pain to the surviving family while not benefiting the community in any way. 

How often are underage drinking laws violated by Greek organizations? Most people here are aware that underage drinking occurs at parties on campus. The Daily says the fraternity did have bylaws that strictly prohibited underage drinking, but they fail to expand that to other Greek life or how exactly they didn’t protect the student from consuming alcohol or cocaine. 

They mention that in pictures he didn’t appear to have Xs on his hands meaning he couldn’t obtain alcohol. How is that conclusive evidence in the slightest that the fraternity didn’t follow their laws. The fraternity even stated that, “The event followed our policies; however, we take every opportunity to provide further education and resources to our chapters to ensure optimal event management.”

The statement by the international fraternity headquarters representative also addresses what the University is doing to make this a learning experience. Steve Henneberry, University spokesman, stated “the University assisted with clarifying institutional policies and procedures regarding student group conduct and options for responding to allegations of misconduct [if] they occurred.”

Their question about how prevalent is the use of cocaine at the University was not even addressed at all, save one quick response from eyewitnesses at the party. 

In short, the Daily failed to address the questions they say they were attempting to answer while causing more grief and suffering to the student’s family.  Jordan Anderson again was correct, saying, “An in-depth description of a man’s actions before his death are wildly unnecessary and not productive.”

Why was it necessary to the story or to answer any of the Daily’s own questions? It only serves to hurt others. The awareness of the backlash and concern from several parties made the decision to post the article all the more concerning. The Daily should focus on reporting the news as it impacts the student body instead of fulfilling their vendetta against the frats while families and friends are still grieving.