The Headline Club’s statement on Northwestern court case

Nov. 11, 2009

The Chicago Headline Club, a chapter of the national Society of Professional Journalists, adamantly opposes Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s efforts to subpoena Northwestern University student records, despite additional legal arguments filed by Alvarez’s office on Tuesday, Nov. 10.

The Chicago Headline Club believes Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism students who are participants in the Innocence Project are indeed investigative journalists. According to Chicago Headline Club President Beth Konrad, “They are engaged in a journalistic endeavor — pursuing the truth — with an end product of publishing and/or broadcasting such findings. The Chicago Headline Club supports their endeavors and believes their rights as journalists should be recognized and protected under the Illinois Reporters Privilege Act.”

The prosecutors in this case argue that because Project Innocence Professor David Protess is not affiliated with The Daily Northwestern newspaper, he is not a journalist. The Chicago Headline Club disagrees. Protess and his students’ final findings have been published in traditional media and online throughout the years. Illinois legislators adopted a broad definition of what kinds of journalism the state’s Shield Law covers. The case law cited by Northwestern’s attorneys substantiates the argument that journalism students engaged in investigative reporting, as Protess’ students are, come under the Shield Law. Allowing the state to circumvent the Shield Law in this case could have a chilling effect on every college journalism class in Illinois.

The Chicago Headline Club will watch this case closely. The next court session is scheduled for Jan. 11. For more information, contact FOI Vice President Susan S. Stevens, at or 312-733-1936.