The Printing Press to the Internet
8. Reporter’s Privilege
C H A P T E R E I G H T Reporter’s Privilege CONTROVERSY: Without exaggeration, the Medill Innocence Project is unique. Its news reporters are Northwestern University journalism students. Their investigations led to the release of 11 wrongly convicted men from prison, five of them from death row, the suspension of the Illinois death penalty in 2000 and its abolishment in 2011. Of all the news reporters in all the world, few have had such a life- and social-policy-chang- ing impact. But were the students really journalists? They interviewed, investigated, wrote, and published like journalists. But were they conducting journalism as defined by the Illinois Reporter’s Privilege Act, a shield law, which grants news reporters the privilege of keeping unpublished information secret? The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office said the students did not qualify as news reporters under the state shield law and subpoenaed their professor, David Protess, in 2009. The prosecutors wanted Protess to hand over, among other evidence, his grading criteria, student grades and notes related to the project’s probe into the conviction of Anthony McKinney, who was seeking to overturn a life sentence for murder. Protess refused to comply. Newspapers, news agencies, and journalism groups filed amici briefs in support of the project. In September 2011, a Cook County Judge rejected the Project’s arguments. Generally, student journalists may invoke the protections of the state shield law, but the Innocent Project students did not qualify as journalists because they acted as criminal investigators under the direction...
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