Taking Aim at Student Muckrakers at Northwestern University

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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.

In one of the most recent cases, students working with the effort, which became the Medill Innocence Project in 1999, uncovered evidence that suggested Anthony McKinney had been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for almost three decades for the murder of a security guard in 1978...

... And because of that investigative work — and perhaps work on other cases, which has led to the exoneration of 11 people, 5 of whom had been sentenced to death — the project and its students find themselves in the gun sights of Cook County prosecutors.

“I and some of my former classmates are now wondering if we are going to have to consider going to jail to protect our sources and our notes,” said Evan S. Benn, a writer and editor at The St. Louis Post-Dispatch who worked on the case in his final semester at Medill before graduating in 2004.

The prosecutors are seeking access to investigative materials, e-mail messages, course outlines, syllabuses, training materials and, yes, even grades, to explore the “bias, motive and interest” behind the students’ work..

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