A pair of investigative journalists whose reporting for the Chicago Tribune led to pardons for wrongly accused death row inmates and to a blanket commutation of death sentences in Illinois will receive the 51st Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award for journalism at Colby College. Steve Mills and Maurice Possley will receive the award for courage in pursuit of the truth at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, October 15, in Colby’s Lorimer Chapel in Waterville. The public is invited to hear them speak.
The Lovejoy Award, established in 1952, is presented annually to honor courageous contributions to the nation’s journalistic achievement and to remember Lovejoy, a Colby graduate who was America’s first martyr to freedom of the press.
Possley has been a reporter for 31 years, the last 20 of them at the Tribune. His focus has been the criminal justice system, and he has written about prosecutorial misconduct, false and coerced confessions, the death penalty and wrongful convictions. Mills has worked at the Tribune since 1994, and for the past five years he has focused on the death penalty, miscarriages of justice and other problems in the criminal justice system. Together they have worked on investigative series including “Executions in America” and “Cops and Confessions.”
In a speech at Northwestern University, former Illinois Governor George Ryan credited Possley, Mills and other members of the Tribunes investigative team with influencing his decisions to halt executions and to pardon inmates who were wrongfully convicted. Ryan told the reporters, “one of the highest callings in journalism is to save the life of an innocent person … you are to be commended.”
Matthew Storin, chair of Colby’s Lovejoy Selection Committee, said, “Steve and Maurice took up a cause that I believe was not popular in the Tribune circulation area and through their courageous reporting they turned around not only public officials but a good portion of public opinion as well. I think their work was not only exemplary journalism but it was an excellent match to the ideals of the Lovejoy Award.”
Mills is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Possley, a graduate of Loyola University of Chicago, is the T. Anthony Pollner visiting professor of journalism at the University of Montana this semester. He is the author of two crime books.
The Lovejoy Award is named for Elijah Parish Lovejoy, a native of Albion, Maine, and an 1826 graduate of Colby who is considered America’s first martyr to freedom of the press. He was killed on November 7, 1837, in Alton, Ill., defending his abolitionist newspaper against a pro-slavery mob. Colby established the award in 1952 for an editor, reporter or publisher who has contributed to the nations journalistic achievement. Recent recipients include Bill Kovach, William Raspberry, Ellen Goodman, David Halberstam and last year, posthumously, Daniel Pearl.
Mills and Possley were selected by a committee of distinguished newspaper editors chaired by Storin, retired editor of The Boston Globe, and including Ann Marie Lipinski, editor of The Chicago Tribune; Rena Pederson, editor at large of the Dallas Morning News; Rebecca Corbett, assistant managing editor of the Baltimore Sun, Greg Moore, managing editor of the Denver Post and Colby President William D. Adams.
For information about the Lovejoy Award and past winners, visit www.colby.edu/lovejoy.
Editors Note: High-resolution, downloadable photos of Steve Mills and Maurice Possley are available for press purposes by clicking on the images above or by contacting Alicia MacLeay ([email protected] or 207-872-3220).