Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

David Protess on the Medill Subpoenas


From an interview with The Daily Northwestern:

Daily: How does your investigative reporting class fall under the umbrella of a journalism class?

Protess: The standards and practices of the class are the same as those used by news organizations when they gather information in similar situations. It’s an experiential learning class, for learning investigative reporting by practicing it. (For) students investigating real-world murder cases involving possible wrong convictions, the sole goal is finding truth. . . . I have adopted that for my class, and they are treated in the real world as journalists.

When they go to interview a prisoner at the Illinois Department of Corrections they are there to interview — not visit the prisoner. They are there in a professional capacity. They are given the same status by the Department that journalists get.

Daily: Is the main purpose of the course to provide evidence or to produce work that will be published?

Protess: Investigative Journalism is a one-unit elective class. The goal is to learn investigative reporting techniques. There is a separate project called the Medill Innocence Project, and that takes the work and exposes it through publication. Students are not involved in that. We have a paid staff.

Maybe he knows something I don’t — I doubt he’d be saying this if it were harmful to his case — but I’m not sure his justification jibes with Illinois’s definition of a reporter (remember that the subpoenas at issue deal mostly with students’ records and interviews, not with the paid staff):

any person regularly engaged in the business of collecting, writing or editing news for publication through a news medium on a full-time or part-time basis; and includes any person who was a reporter at the time the information sought was procured or obtained.

As I’ve written before, it seems to me that the students’ main purpose is to rectify wrongs, not to publish stories, and Protess himself now says the course’s main purpose is to teach, not to publish. If you’re collecting information that someone might publish someday, but are conducting the research primarily for other purposes, are you a protected journalist? I don’t know, but I’m not crazy about a law that gives the government that call to make.

Anyhow, read the whole thing — Protess weighs in on a number of issues and vows to let the judge hold him in contempt before turning over students’ grades, unpublished interviews, and e-mails.


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