Northwestern Innocence Project Sparks Journalism Debate

In case you have been stuck on no-journalism-allowed island recently: Past undergraduate journalism students at Northwestern University working on the famed Innocence Project have been accused of bribing witnesses and acting somewhat inappropriately while investigating a murder case that eventually set a wrongfully-convicted man free.  As the New York Times reports: Illinois prosecutors “said that during their three years of work on the case, the students . . . paid witnesses money, flirted with them and, in one instance, flashed a shotgun.”

From the evidence that Innocence Project head and NU professor David Protess presents in return– plus my general faith in the Medill program- I have almost no doubt the charges are untrue. The actual case though is not as interesting as the precedents it has the potential to set, extend or set back within collegemediatopia.

For example, the prosecution is arguing you cannot be a student journalist unless you publish!  Kind of interesting.  The argument is that students are not protected under relevant free press laws because they never published any work (at least in a traditional journalism way). What do you think? It is a tricky question in an age of unconventional communication techniques.  (For example, the students’ work was obviously hyped on the related project’s Web site.  Does that not count as publication?)

My take: Protess and his Medill minions should be rewarded, not subpoenaed.  They are prime examples of a larger trend in which student journalism will have evermore significant real-world implications.  By extension, j-students will increasingly find themselves in the crosshairs.  They are undertaking the work the professional press used to have the staff, time, and resources to do.

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  1. […] are publicly supporting j-students involved in Northwestern University’s famed and suddenly controversial Innocence Project (which investigates death row murder cases and occasionally sets a wrongfully […]