I received a letter this week from my alma mater, Northwestern University, notifying me that my notes, records, interviews — even my grades — from my senior year ('03) investigative journalism class were subject to a subpoena by the state of Illinois.
You may have heard that Cook County has subpoenaed Northwestern, and in particular Professor David Protess' investigative journalism class, over its review of the Anthony McKinney case. McKinney has been incarcerated for more than three decades for a murder NU journalism students have authoritatively proven he did not commit. Yet prosecutors in a district with a track record of wrongful convictions are fighting to keep him locked up — and they're taking aim at student journalists.
In a copy of the subpoena I received this week — which I've attached — the university is ordered to turn over all "notes, memoranda, reports and summaries" created by students in the class who worked on McKinney's case. (I wasn't one of them, but I assume I received a copy because I was in class that same year). They're required to turn over the class syllabus, grading criteria, even a "copy of the grade each student who worked on the Anthony McKinney case received each quarter they worked on the case." They're even asking for "receipts and accompanying paperwork for expenses incurred by students" investigating the likely wrongful conviction.
In short, it's a massive bullying tactic designed to insinuate that students were somehow rewarded for proving someone had been wrongfully convicted. That insinuation couldn't be farther from the truth.
I dedicated my entire senior year of college to Protess' class, and it was the single most formative experience of my fledgling journalism career. My case involved a young man named Darnell Hines who'd been convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison in Wisconsin. Over the course of 9 months, my amazing team interviewed gang members in the roughest neighborhoods of Milwaukee. We knocked on doors of crack houses. We spent hours in maximum security prisons. We took risks that I still haven't confessed to my parents. It was a class — an experience — worth every cent of my $120,000 private school education. It turned me from a textbook journalism student into a real live reporter, and I've never looked back.
In the end, my team had no epiphanies of wrongful conviction. We determined our man was probably guilty. And yes, Cook County, we all got A's. Because Protess' class — his mission — is about uncovering the truth, regardless of what that truth is.
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