Laureate 2001: Professor David Protess

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Professor David Protess investigates dubious death sentences in the United States with the help of his students. His work has resulted in a number of appeals and a moratorium by the governor of Illinois.

1st Prize goes to Professor David Protess
The Foundation Council of the Media Foundation of the Sparkasse Leipzig has awarded the “1st Prize for the Freedom and Future of the Media” 2001 to Professor David Protess from Illinois. The prize has a purse of 25,000 deutsche marks.

From the jury’s decision:

The work of Professor David Protess and his students has not only saved innocents from being executed under the death penalty, it also provides an outstanding example of the important role independent and professional advocacy journalism can play in society. They have shown that truth, freedom and justice are values that need to be fought for over and over.

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Professor David Protess

Professor David Protess

David Protess is professor of journalism at the Medill School of Journalism of Northwestern University in the State of Illinois. His research in recent years has focused on the role of the media in social policy, media coverage of race issues, and the relationship between media and the law.

Protess himself became the focus of international media attention through his investigative journalism, working with his students to help condemned innocents regain their freedom. His book A Promise of Justice recounts how they succceeded in exposing judicial errors. The book won him the Investigative Reporters and Editors Award as well as a Pulitzer Prize nomination. The professor and his students have meanwhile saved the lives of three individuals. Seven more have been released from prisons in the State of Illinois as a result of their work. Each year Protess receives thousands of letters from allegedly innocent convicts and their families asking him to take up their cause.

Protess is a forceful opponent of the death penalty. He was seven years old when Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were condemned and put to death for espionage. The hype and hoopla surrounding the execution was repugnant to him even back then. Later, as a cub reporter for the Chicago Lawyer and as research director of the Better Government Association, Protess fought recurrent battles against injustices in the legal system. His weapons were always journalistic: questioning, scrutinizing, investigating, and questioning once again.

A Promise of Justice (1998)
Gone in the Night (1993)
Journalism of Outrage (1991)
Agenda Setting: Readings on Media, Public Opinion (1991)
Uncovering Race: Press Coverage of Racial Issues in Chicago(1989)

Select prizes / honors:
- Midwest Emmy Award
- Illinois Associated Press Best Investigative Reporting Award
- Advocates Award of the Illinois Attorneys for Criminal Justice (IACJ)
- Charles Deering McCormick Chair for Teaching Excellence
- Amoco Foundation Faculty Award
- Peter Lisagor Award for Exemplary Journalism
- Gone in the Night voted “Best Book of 1993” by Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE)
- National Teaching Award for Excellence in Teaching Journalism Ethics from the Poynter Institute of Media Studies

Together with Professor Lawrence Marshall, David Protess is head of the newly created Center for Wrongful Convictions and the Death Penalty. The institution wants to identify possible errors of judgment, to publish the suffering of victims and to bring them justice.

Currently, Protess is president of the Chicago Innocence Project. It is intended as legal advice for all people who have been convicted of robbery, murder or rape and then forgotten. Under the supervision of experienced lawyers and verify legal expert, law students verifying cases of prisoners who believe to prove their innocence through DNA analysis.