Marquette to host award-winning investigative journalist for annual Burleigh Media Ethics Lecture, Oct. 5 

Jaeah Lee, an award-winning independent journalist and contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine, will discuss her Dori J. Maynard Justice award-winning piece, “This Rap Song Helped Sentence a 17-Year-Old to Prison for Life,” at Marquette’s annual Burleigh Media Ethics Lecture on Thursday, Oct. 5, at 4 p.m., at the Alumni Memorial Union. 

The public lecture is hosted by the Diederich College of Communication and the O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism. Registration and further event information are available online

“This Rap Song Helped Sentence a 17-Year-Old to Prison for Life” is Lee’s unique, ground-up investigation that showed how prosecutors increasingly are winning convictions and long prison terms, even with little other proof, by getting evidence before juries that links defendants to rap music and lyrics in what legal scholars call “racialized character evidence.” The report relied on a 230-person database that took more than two years to build, analysis of that data and research by legal scholars to show how prosecutors — with the countenance of judges — are evading rules of evidence that are supposed to keep such bias out of the courtroom. The work helped spur legislation in California, New York and Congress to limit the use of such evidence. 

Lee’s stories often grapple with inequity, the aftermath of violence and the impact of the criminal legal system in everyday lives. In 2018, she was awarded the American Mosaic Journalism Prize for excellence in longform, narrative or deep reporting on underrepresented communities in the United States. Her work has also received recognition from the PEN America Los Angeles Literary Awards, the Debra E. Bernhardt Labor Journalism Prize, the AAJA Journalism Excellence Awards, the Mirror Awards and the Online Journalism Awards. She has written for The California Sunday Magazine, The Economist’s 1843 Magazine, Columbia Journalism Review, Topic Stories, Vice News and Mother Jones, where she previously worked as a producer on the data desk and covered policing after Ferguson. 

The Burleigh Media Ethics Lecture honors William R. Burleigh, a 1957 Marquette journalism graduate, who started working for the Evansville Press (Indiana) at age 14 as a sports reporter. He retired in 2000 as president and CEO of the E.W. Scripps Company, having led the transformation of Scripps from primarily a newspaper enterprise into a media company with interest in cable and broadcast television, newspaper publishing, e-commerce, interactive media, licensing and syndication. Burleigh Lectures address ethical issues today’s communicators report on, as well as those they wrestle with in their own work.