Chicago Tribune reporters receive Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism

Paulina Firozi

After tracking and investigating criminal suspects who crossed American borders to escape charges of violent crimes such as rape and murder, Chicago Tribune writers Gary Marx and David Jackson have won the 2011 Medill Medal for Courage, honoring their bravery as journalists.

Marx and Jackson received the award for their series “Across the Border, Beyond the Law: Flaws in the justice system help fugitives cross America’s borders and avoid capture.”

The reporters went to Mexico for 18 days looking for nine criminals, six of whom were accused of murder, according to a Chicago Tribune article. They found eight of the fugitives during that trip and returned later to find more.

“Both David and I have done a lot of work and seen over the years how individuals charged with violent crimes were able to flee the country and never faced justice,” Marx said. “We wanted to see how commonly this happens and why these individuals were never brought to justice.”

The Medill Medal for Courage is awarded annually to any individual journalist or team of journalists from a U.S.-based media outlet who, according to the Medill website, have “best displayed moral, ethical or physical courage in the pursuit of a story or series of stories.”

Jackson and Marx said they were honored to receive an award that had such an impressive list of previous recipients.

Previous recipients of the award include Jonathan Katz in 2010 and Roxana Saberi in 2008.

“It’s an incredibly prestigious and meaningful award because of the past winners and also because Medill has the reputation as one of the best journalism schools in the country,” Marx said. “It was incredibly meaningful for us because it rewarded us for our determination to sort of work on behalf of victims of violent crimes.”

Marx and Jackson said their associate managing editor submitted their work for consideration.

Medill Professor Donna Leff was one of three judges who critiqued the entries, along with Susan Goldberg, a BloombergNews executive editor, and Medill alumnus Richard Stolley (MSJ ’53) , founding editor of People Magazine.

Jackson said the investigative process was difficult emotionally, because while finding fugitives was easy once they got started, they wish it hadn’t been so.

“It was heartbreaking in a lot of ways, to know once we were able to find these people, how easy it was,” Jackson said. “In a way you wish that it’d been harder, but in fact, the fugitives generally were making very little effort to hide their whereabouts to conceal themselves. Most had gone back to their hometowns.”

He said this fact further highlighted the flaws of the extradition system.

“The triumph of finding them was quickly replaced by the heartbreak of knowing this person could have been apprehended. This could have have happened very quickly.”

Jackson and Marx said anyone considering writing investigative pieces should realize that no situation should be taken lightly. Marx said making detailed plans was the most important aspect of their reporting process, whether a reporter is working at a Chicago public housing project or at a riot, or even if the subject is someone who does not want to be found.

“You have to approach the people you deal with with politeness, respect and most of all you have to have a sense of purpose as you carry out your work,” Jackson said.

Both reporters said they focused on those who had been affected by the criminals they were locating, the victims whose stories needed to be told.

“In most cases these were immigrant families, hard-working families who had no power to push law enforcement to go after these felons and bring them to justice,” Marx said. “We took pride in this series, working on behalf of these families, to try and bring them some semblance of justice.”

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