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Protecting the Innocent

Melissa Segura '01, a Communication graduate, recently earned a 2018 George Polk Award for local reporting with a series of stories that drew attention to innocent men framed for murder by a Chicago police detective. Her work in BuzzFeed News led to their release from prison.

This prestigious honor focuses on the intrepid, bold, and influential work of the reporters themselves, placing a premium on investigative work that is original, resourceful, and thought-provoking. Communication Department journalism lecturer Lisa Davis earned a Polk Award for environmental reporting in 2001. Among the many journalism greats who are Polk laureates are Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, Walter Cronkite, Edward R. Murrow, Christiane Amanpour, Peter Jennings, Norman Mailer, Diane Sawyer, Seymour Hersh, and Glen Greenwald.

"I am so proud of Melissa, who took several of my journalism classes, and excelled in all of them," said Barbara Kelley, director of the journalism program in the Communication Department. "Her award-winning stories exemplify what we hope to teach in our journalism classes: fearless and ethical reporting, elegant writing and, most importantly, tackling difficult issues that put the debate squarely on the table, while giving a voice to those who rarely have one in our society."

While at Santa Clara, Segura was the winner of the 2000-2001 Edward Shipsey, S.J., Journalism Prize. Established in 1984 by Alfred Orr Kelly in honor of Edward J. Shipsey, S.J., this prize is awarded to the outstanding student who has made a commitment to a career in journalism.

Segura wrote for Sports Illustrated for several years before she was laid off in 2014. In an interview with Daniel J. Chacón of The New Mexican, she explained what happened next.

"Segura said she was ready to leave journalism behind when she saw a tweet about a diversity fellowship at BuzzFeed News to work on an investigative project for a year," Chacón wrote.  "She said she remembered interviewing the California Innocence Project director, who had told her about a case he was working on in Chicago that involved a police officer accused of framing innocent people.

"Segura pitched the story and landed the yearlong fellowship. She immediately went to work, spending countless hours reading court files, knocking on doors and reading others’ research. By the end, she had threaded a number of other cases together that resulted in her award-winning series."

Segura explained that her work is really an indictment of far more than one police officer gone bad. “The simple narrative is of a rogue cop,” Segura said. “But really, the truth of the matter is that there were so many checks and balances, or so many safeguards, that people assume work and don’t. I wanted the reader to walk away with questions about systems rather than individuals.”

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