NECIR wins national public service journalism award 

A radio series about a wrongfully convicted man’s effort to rebuild his life after nearly four decades in prison earned the New England Center for Investigative Reporting (NECIR) and WGBH a national prize for public service journalism today. 

The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) presented the national Sigma Delta Chi (SDX) Award for Public Service in Radio Journalism (Market 1-100 or Network Syndication) to NECIR Reporter Chris Burrell, NECIR Investigations Editor Paul Singer and WGBH Executive Producer and Editor Aaron Schachter for the four-part series that aired in September. 

After a year of research and interviews, Burrell told the story of how hypnosis helped send Fred Clay to prison 38 years ago when police used the now-discredited technique to sharpen the fuzzy memory of a witness in Clay’s trial for the murder of a taxi driver. That conviction was thrown out by a superior court judge in Boston, freeing Clay after 38 years behind bars. 

Even though Massachusetts law calls for immediate services and monetary compensation for wrongly convicted men and women, Clay’s newly-won freedom quickly turned into a struggle for basic survival without any support from the state that wrongfully convicted him.  

The spotlight on Clay’s story helped him win $1 million in compensation from the state and inspired a bill to improve support for those wrongfully convicted after their release.  

Read the series and follow-up reports and interviews. 

Prominent veteran journalists, who served as SDX Awards judges, selected 77 honorees from nearly 1,200 submissions. The winners will be honored at an event on June 21 at the National Press Club in Washington DC. Read the entire list of award recipients. 

SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. 

The New England Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit newsroom based at Boston University and WGBH News, seeks to expose injustice through investigative reporting and training. Learn more at NECIR.org.