EDITOR: We messed up last week. Here’s what happened

From the Editor

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When I was a brand new cub reporter, one of my biggest frustrations was that news editors frequently threw me into the deep end to learn the trade.

As reporters, we’re supposed to be experts on everything we write. It’s challenging when your degree focuses on writing or videography and then you have to suddenly learn the ins-and-outs of crime and court proceedings, public policy, taxing issues, healthcare and the list goes on.

The process usually works because, as newbies, we work hard and we learn from our own mistakes.

Last week one of our newest EastIdahoNews.com reporters made a big mistake. It was not malicious, underhanded or an attempt to get information he shouldn’t have. But it was, in the reporter’s own words, “a really dumb mistake.”

During the trial of a now-convicted sex offender, this reporter made small talk with a juror during a lunch break in the hallway of the Bonneville County Courthouse. During that conversation, the reporter discussed having previously served on a jury and mentioned that he was surprised this particular case went to trial.

That statement (and speaking to a sitting juror in general) was a serious breach of court etiquette and rules. A conversation along those lines could be seen as trying to influence a juror, and result in a mistrial.

Following the conversation, the juror reported in court what had occurred and a motion was made to declare a mistrial. The judge called a recess, spoke with our reporter, provided a needed teaching moment (and a stern warning) and gave the defense and prosecutor the option to question our journalist. They both declined and the trial proceeded.

The reporter immediately told me what happened and I contacted the judge to see if any corrective action needed to be taken. We have agreed that our entire staff will be better trained when it comes to court procedure.

As the managing editor, and the person ultimately responsible for the actions of my reporters, I am committed to ensuring a mistake like this does not happen again.

As for our reporter, he has learned a lesson in a hard and public way. I think it’s safe to say he will not make the same mistake again.

— Nate Sunderland, EastIdahoNews.com Managing Editor