Because I spend most of my waking hours reporting and writing about wrongful convictions across the United States, I am acutely aware when another one becomes public knowledge. Almost every day, I learn about yet another instance of an individual convicted of a crime he or she did not commit, and an eventual exoneration. Frequently, journalists play roles in those exonerations, and those roles are cause for congratulations.
Still, I wonder, where were the journalists when the innocent individual got arrested, indicted, and then either pled guilty under pressure or pled not guilty, went to trial, and endured the wrong outcome? Why are journalists usually involved in exonerations only after the innocent individual has spent years, sometimes decades, in prison trying to be heard? I am proposing a plan for journalists to practice preventive reporting, rather than retrospective reporting. You can read about the plan in an article I wrote for Miller-McCune magazine.
Steve Weinberg is a freelance magazine writer and book author. He also teaches journalism part time at the University of Missouri.