In the case of the mean prosecutors vs. the plucky journalism students playing out in Illinois, the most surprising fact is that some people still believe journalists are a benevolent race of energy beings devoted solely to uncovering the truth.
Last month, Illinois prosecutors made news for subpoenaing the grades, emails and other records of a group of journalism students who claimed they had uncovered evidence that a man convicted of a 1978 murder was innocent. Basically, the prosecutors don't agree with the journalism students, who are working with the Medill Innocence Project at Northwestern University, and during a subpoena hearing today they accused the students of "flirting" with sources, and paying one of them $60 (which he allegedly used to buy crack cocaine). They also reiterated their claim that the students may have scandalously been motivated by something other than a noble search for the Truth, with a capital T, underscored thrice and written in fancy cursive.
In Tuesday's submission in support of the subpoena of students' e-mails and grades, which the school is fighting, prosecutors argued that the students' investigation was flawed and may have included pay-offs to witnesses.
Prosecutors said they want to know if the students' motivation to find exculpatory evidence was driven by a quest for better grades.
Oh crap, these students were driven by "a quest for better grades" and not for the absolute, objective, Platonic truth of the Universe!? Somebody go check on H. L. Mencken to see if he's pulling 360s in his grave. Come on, prosecutors: The idea that journalists are objective truth-seekers died out with, like, Walter Cronkite's "And that's the way it is." We've all got an angle these days. Sometimes it's coming up with incomprehensible metaphors to explain globalization in order to sell a million books; sometimes it's not flunking out of journalism school by proving murderers innocent. (Incidentally, does one really undertake a "quest" for grades? Makes journalism school seem way more fun than it probably is!)
Maybe it's because I only write stupid articles about public restrooms and cemeteries, but of the many things that have motivated me as a journalist, not one is any less impure than these students wanting to get an A- in Exculpating Murderers 101. My motivations include: Not having any money and wanting to have some, fear of an impending deadline, fear of my editor's wrath, fear of failure, fear of being yelled at by people who didn't like my article. Fear, basically. A lot of fear.
And regarding prosecutors' claim that students aren't practicing proper "journalism" because they paid a source, I have just ten simple words: "Gawker" "bought" "the" "Balloon" "Boy" "scoop" "from" "that" "one" "guy." (Although there's a pretty strong argument to be made that Gawker's status as practicing journalism would not hold up in any U.S. court.)