The project also aims to launch a national network of journalism-based organizations
By Alison Flowers
Medill Innocence Project
The Medill Innocence Project, a part of Northwestern University which investigates potentially wrongful murder convictions, is changing its name to the Medill Justice Project.
Keith Findley, president of the Innocence Network, an affiliation of about 80 legal clinics that examine prisoners’ cases, told the Medill Innocence Project that the network has decided to limit its membership only to advocacy organizations offering legal services, what he called “legal investigative projects.” The Innocence Project, which owns the “Innocence Project” trademark, said it can only be used by those in the network. Findley said he appreciates the Medill Innocence Project’s work and hopes to collaborate with it.
The network’s decision also affects the only other member that is a journalism project, the Justice Brandeis Innocence Project at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. Northwestern Professor and Director Alec Klein said the Medill Innocence Project for the past year had been considering changing its name to better reflect that it is not an advocacy group or legal clinic but rather an objective journalistic enterprise that seeks to pursue the truth.
“It doesn’t change what we do,” said Klein who became director of the Medill Innocence Project in the spring of 2011. “We will continue to be relentless, fair and objective as we investigate murder cases. As journalists we are advocates for the truth, not for the defense.”
Klein said the university has acquired the Web domain and applied for the trademark for the Medill Justice Project. Northwestern also has applied for a trademark to launch the Journalism Justice Network, what Klein hopes will become a national network for journalism-based projects that investigate potentially wrongful convictions.
“Challenging wrongful convictions isn’t the province only of legal clinics,” said Klein, a former investigative reporter at The Washington Post. “There’s a long tradition where journalists have uncovered miscarriages of justices, and I believe there remains a demand for this public service.”
The Medill Innocence Project, founded in 1999 at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, is the only innocence project in the world where undergraduate students enrolled in a journalism class investigate a potentially wrongful murder conviction and publish their findings. For more than a decade the project has played a role in the exoneration of several prisoners, some from death row, and it also helped to inform the Illinois governor’s decision to abolish the death penalty.
The Medill Innocence Project, a founding member of the network, which was created in 2005, was approached in spring 2011 about new guidelines the network was preparing for its members. Klein told the network that as a journalistic organization, not a legal clinic, the Medill Innocence Project does not advocate on behalf of prisoners; rather, the Medill Innocence Project’s mission is to objectively, thoroughly and transparently report what it finds. The Medill Innocence Project also told the network that the project must preserve its independence as a journalistic organization.