For many year’s Medill’s School of Journalism at Northwestern University has conducted a wonderful investigative journalism program for undergraduates. As part of the program, undergrads researched criminal cases where convictions may have sent innocent people to death row. Now the program is (wrongly) under fire. From the New York Times:
“Since 1992, Prof. David Protess at the Medill school at Northwestern University has worked with undergraduate journalism students to investigate cases in which prosecutors appear to have taken aim at the wrong people. That might be about to happen again, only this time the students themselves would be the targets.” The students’ work has always been considered journalism, and has received its due protection under the law. Yet, now with journalism weakened both economically and politically, the professions enemies are emboldened to take it on.
From the Times: “And because of that investigative work â€” and perhaps work on other cases, which has led to the exoneration of 11 people, 5 of whom had been sentenced to death â€” the project and its students find themselves in the gun sights of Cook County prosecutors … The prosecutors are seeking access to investigative materials, e-mail messages, course outlines, syllabuses, training materials and, yes, even grades, to explore the â€œbias, motive and interestâ€ behind the studentsâ€™ work.”
I encourage you to read the entire story. This is what I most fear as journalism undergoes its transition from print to digital, from professional to crowd-sourcing.