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KY Kernel editor-in-chief discusses reporting on UK student charged with storming Capitol

Posted at 9:25 PM, Jan 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-18 21:25:27-05

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — On January 6, as she scoured her Twitter feed searching for information on the riots unfolding inside the United States Capitol, Natalie Parks stumbled upon chatter in the online University of Kentucky community about someone named Gracyn Courtright.

Parks, the editor-in-chief of the Kentucky Kernel, the independent UK student newspaper, initially thought Courtright must have been an Instagram influencer trying to gain clout. It was not until the next day that Parks learned Courtright was a fellow UK student who was in Washington D.C. on January 6.

Courtright's own social media accounts appeared to show pictures of herself on the Capitol grounds, surrounded by other people who stormed the Capitol.

"So I checked the student directory," Parks recalled. "And that was when I knew that this was something we needed to cover and that we could cover."

After speaking with some of Courtright's acquaintances and verifying her enrollment at UK, Parks published a story on the Kernel's website, entitled "'Infamy is just as good as fame': UK student among crowd that mobbed Capitol building.'"

The first part of the headline was a reference to a caption Courtright used on an Instagram post, ostensibly alluding to her involvement in the riots.

The title reappeared in a FBI affidavit that laid out several federal charges against Courtright, including "stealing or knowingly converting to her use, or conveying, without authority, a thing of value of the United States, that is a 'Members Only' sign."

A photograph included in the affidavit appears to depict Courtright holding that sign.

The FBI cited the Kernel's article as part of the "Background of Affiant" section.

"It was very surreal to see something that we'd done in an official FBI document and to know that that was on the record forever," Parks said. "It's a little frightening to know that that's on the record forever."

Parks, 21, emphasized that her goal as a journalist is not to approach stories with a desired outcome, but rather to try her best to get the story right.

She said the positive feedback she has received from reputable journalists in the industry has helped assuage some of her nerves about the attention on the article.