Investigating Wrongful Convictions around the World

Professor Alec Klein discusses the role the Medill Justice Project has played in the investigation of wrong convictions and the promotion and expansion of the Journalism Justice Network.

Historically, journalists and other members of the media have played an important role in uncovering and airing miscarriages of justice through published investigations, documentaries and other media forms. Since 1999, The Medill Justice Project has investigated potentially wrongful murder convictions in the United States, uncovering revelatory information that has impacted people’s lives and the criminal justice system. Wrongful convictions aren’t exclusive to the United States; they occur in every country. Recognizing a need for an international community of people and organizations focused on uncovering injustices in the criminal justice system, The Medill Justice Project has built the Journalism Justice Network to foster connections among those who examine law enforcement, the courts and correctional institutions. The Journalism Justice Network embraces the multitude of ideas and approaches the network’s members discuss as each tackles its own investigation related to the universal issues involving miscarriages of justice.

Professor Klein was a Keynote Speaker and Featured Panelist at The Asian Conference on Media and Mass Communication 2014 (MediAsia2014) in Osaka, Japan.

Professor Alec Klein

Alec Klein is an award-winning investigative journalist, bestselling author and professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. Klein is also the director of The Medill Justice Project.

For two decades, Klein worked as a newspaper reporter, including several years as an investigative reporter at the Washington Post, until the summer of 2008 when he joined the Medill faculty as a professor. He previously worked at the Wall Street Journal, the Baltimore Sun and the Virginian-Pilot. His investigations have led to significant reforms, congressional hearings, federal law, criminal convictions and more than half a billion dollars in government fines. He gives speeches and conducts workshops throughout the country and abroad on investigative reporting and other issues.

Of his two books of nonfiction, Stealing Time: Steve Case, Jerry Levin, and the Collapse of AOL Time Warner was an acclaimed national bestseller published by Simon & Schuster that was translated into Japanese and Chinese and excerpted in Great Britain. Stealing Time, required reading in several college courses across the nation and used in textbooks in Europe, was selected as one of the “Best Business Books” by Library Journal and Strategy + Business. His second book of nonfiction, A Class Apart: Prodigies, Pressure, and Passion Inside One of America’s Best High Schools, published by Simon & Schuster, was named “One of the Best Education Books of the Year” by the American School Board Journal and translated into Chinese.

At Medill, where he has been honored for his teaching, Klein was named director of the Medill Innocence Project in spring 2011, revamping its operations across the board, instituting new policies and procedures and overhauling its website, introducing long-form investigative articles, videos, podcasts and other multimedia, social media and a series of other innovations and reforms. Under Klein’s leadership, the Medill Innocence Project, now called The Medill Justice Project, has uncovered revelatory information, influenced legal proceedings and successfully challenged government agencies to abide by the First Amendment.

With Klein’s guidance, The Medill Justice Project has won several journalism honors, including two prestigious Lisagor Awards from the Chicago Headline Club, the largest chapter of the national Society of Professional Journalists, and earned recognition nationwide for its investigations, including a national award from Investigative Reporters & Editors and a Sunshine Award from the national Society of Professional Journalists.

At The Medill Justice Project, Klein also has won Freedom of Information Act appeals and access to records in federal court. Klein launched The Medill Justice Project’s research on national criminal justice issues, including its groundbreaking database on U.S. shaken-baby syndrome cases, the largest known publicly available database of its kind in the world. Klein created The Medill Justice Project’s first board of advisers, its first series of publications, including an innovative safety manual for student journalists, as well as its first fellowship, internship and visiting scholar programs. Klein also has forged several partnerships with other organizations, including media outlets, such as the Washington Post and the Lens of New Orleans as well as the Wisconsin State Journal and the Quad-City Times in Iowa, both of which published Medill Justice Project investigations as two-part series on Page One.

Klein is the founder of the Journalism Justice Network, an international coalition of journalism-based projects that examine potentially wrongful convictions (

Prior to Medill, Klein taught journalism at Georgetown University and American University.

In his last Washington Post investigation, published in the summer of 2008, Klein co-wrote a three-part series about the national housing boom and bust, documenting industry abuses and chronicling the origins and causes of and fallout from the credit crisis.

Previously, Klein wrote a groundbreaking series for The Washington Post on the little-known but widespread practice of reusing single-use medical devices in the United States. The stories documented patient injuries and device malfunctions and showed how the industry has eluded comprehensive oversight and is comprised of several entrepreneurs who have run afoul of federal authorities. The series, which won the Society of American Business Editors and Writers award for special projects, prompted an investigation by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s investigative arm, congressional hearings and industry reform.

Klein also wrote a three-part series for The Washington Post about the world’s big three credit-rating firms, showing how they dominate an important part of global finance with little oversight or accountability, how the rating system is subject to manipulation and conflicts of interest, and how the credit raters use strong-arm tactics to generate business. His series, a first-place winner in Washington’s Society of Professional Journalists, prompted an investigation by the New York attorney general, congressional hearings and the passage of federal law to strengthen government oversight of the industry.

Among his other stories at the Washington Post, Klein conducted a yearlong investigation of AOL’s takeover of Time Warner. His investigation, based on hundreds of confidential AOL documents, showed how AOL secretly inflated its revenue to pull off the largest merger in U.S. history to create the biggest media company in the world. His investigation sparked investigations of AOL by the U.S. Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Klein’s series also prompted the company, then called AOL Time Warner, to launch its own internal investigation of its accounting, which led the company to admit that it had improperly reported at least $190 million in advertising revenue, causing it to restate two years of financial results. The company agreed to pay $510 million to settle criminal and civil allegations that its AOL division improperly pumped up revenue before and after its merger with Time Warner. In the wake of Klein’s investigation, several top AOL executives were forced to resign, several business partners involved in AOL’s schemes were indicted and convicted on fraud charges and the AOL division that was the focus of his investigation was disbanded. For his coverage of AOL, Klein won the Gerald Loeb Award, business journalism’s highest honor. He also won awards from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers in project reporting and the Virginia Press Association in news writing.

While at The Washington Post, Klein also won the Society of American Business Editors and Writers breaking news award for team coverage when the court overturned the Microsoft breakup order. He also was part of a Washington Post team that was honored by the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild for a series of stories about the economic struggles of middle-income Americans.

Klein, a frequent guest speaker, has spoken at the National Press Foundation, the American Press Institute, the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, the Asian American Journalists Association, the South Asian Journalists Association, Unity: Journalists of Color, and various newspapers and other media outlets, schools, associations, clubs and education groups throughout the country. Klein has been a guest lecturer at several colleges, including the University of California at Berkeley, George Washington University and New York University. He was also selected as a business writer-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Klein has given a series of Webinars, Internet-based video talks in real time, to professionals throughout the country and abroad. Klein has served as a judge for the Society of American Business Editors and Writers awards and other journalism contests and has appeared on several television and radio programs, including CNN, CNBC, CBS and NPR as well as the BBC and TV Asahi. Klein, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Brown University, is the author of several staged plays, a novel and the foreword to the 2011 edition of Show Me The Money: Writing Business and Economics Stories for Mass Communication, a textbook adopted at universities across the nation.

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