National Press Club

Club Speaks Up for Illinois Journalists

November 3, 2009

The National Press Club strongly objects to the Cook County, Ill., prosecutor's use of subpoena power to obtain personal information, such as grades and evaluations, and investigative records, such as off-the-record interviews, from student journalists at Northwestern University.

The journalists at Northwestern's Medill Innocence Project reported and researched the conviction of Anthony McKinney for the slaying of a security guard in 1978. Their reporting revealed new evidence that the student journalists say points to McKinney's innocence.

"The Cook County prosecutor's efforts are misplaced," National Press Club President Donna Leinwand said. "Rather than attacking the journalists who produced some great investigative reporting, they should be reviewing their own investigation to determine whether an innocent man was unfairly prosecuted."

The prosecutor has argued that the students at Northwestern are not journalists, but investigators, and therefore not protected by the state's Reporter's Privilege Act. The act prohibits prosecutors from forcing reporters to reveal confidential sources unless certain very strict conditions are met.

"It is clear that these students are investigative journalists working under a journalism professor at one of the nation's top journalism schools," Leinwand said. "To argue otherwise seems to be a semantic stretch of great desperation."