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Christopher Benson

Christopher Benson

Associate Professor

Christopher Benson, a journalist and lawyer, is an associate professor of journalism. As a professional journalist, Benson has worked as Washington editor for Ebony magazine, city hall reporter in Chicago for WBMX-FM, and as a contributor for The Chicago Reporter, writing a weekly online column on justice, race and media issues. Additionally, he has contributed feature articles to Chicago, Savoy, and The Crisis magazines, and has contributed commentary to The Huffington Post, the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, and the Chicago Sun-Times.

As an attorney, he served as vice president and associate counsel for Johnson Publishing Company, Inc., the parent company of Ebony. Among other things, he conducted pre-publication review of all company magazines for libel, privacy and copyright issues, and was Chicago management liaison for the startup and ongoing oversight of Ebony South Africa magazine.

Benson is co-author with Mamie Till-Mobley of Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America (Random House), the account of the historical significance of the 1955 lynching of Till-Mobley's son, Emmett Till, and the winner of the 2003 Robert F. Kennedy Book Award Special Recognition. The rights to the book were acquired by Kapital Entertainment and Disney/ABC for the limited television series, "Women of the Movement," and companion documentary, which both aired in January 2022. Benson also served as a consultant on the TV series.

His latest published work is A Few Days Full of Trouble: Revelations on the Journey to Justice for My Cousin and Best Friend, Emmett Till, (One World/Penguin Random House), co-authored with the Rev. Wheeler Parker, Jr. This book documents the last phase of the investigation of Emmett Till's lynching with new information resulting from the authors' four-year "ride-along" with the FBI, Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Mississippi and Mississippi District Attorney. The book was selected by Amazon editors as one of the top ten books for January 2023, the month of its release, and again later that year. That book will serve as source material for a documentary executive produced by Dick Wolf (“Law and Order”); Tom Thayer (former Universal TV head); and James Moll (founding executive director of the Shoah Foundation). Benson will be a producer.

Among his other projects, Benson co-authored the textbook "Magazine Writing" (Routledge) in collaboration with Medill Dean Charles Whitaker. Benson also wrote a novel, "Special Interest," a suspense-thriller focusing on a reporter's investigation of the mysterious death of a Washington, D.C., lobbyist.

Benson currently serves on the board of directors of the non-profit Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley Institute. The Till Institute currently serves as steward of a Mellon Foundation grant to restore Chicago’s Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ, the site of the 1955 open-casket funeral of Emmett Till and now a National Monument. Benson has worked with other Till Institute members and the Children's Museum of Indianapolis on the development of a narrative for a traveling interactive exhibition focusing on the life and civil rights legacy of Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley. He also has worked with the national organization Facing History and Ourselves on the development of a six-class online high school curriculum focusing on Emmett Till, civil rights and civic engagement. He is a member of the Facing History Board of Scholars and is a senior advisor for the Chicago History Museum (Chicago Historical Society).

Prior to joining the Medill faculty, Benson was associate professor of journalism, associate professor of African American Studies, associate professor in the Institute of Communications Research, and was a faculty affiliate of the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. While there, he taught courses on media law, journalism ethics and diversity, hate crimes, race and the media, and magazine writing.

In his writing, Benson focuses on the intimate personal story as a point of entry for a discussion of the full context of social construction and its often-violent enforcement. His next project is a stage adaptation of the Emmy Award-winning documentary "Inheritance" by Academy Award-winning director James Moll.

"Inheritance" is an extension of the "Schindler's List" story. In the dramatic adaptation, Benson explores the dynamics of memory and forgetting, as well as the enduring effects of trauma arising in a conversation between a Holocaust survivor and the daughter of a Nazi perpetrator—a concentration camp commander. It is an encounter with both historical overtones and contemporary resonance. In a work on related themes through the motion picture adaptation of the Emmett Till story, Benson's effort as lead writer earned him a fellowship in the Sundance Institute Screenwriting Intensive.

In his teaching, Benson creates an analytical framework for students to begin considering case studies and contemporary headlining stories to develop a deeper appreciation of professional and ethical considerations of media responsibility, while polishing skills needed to deliver higher quality work. Among the courses he has developed at Medill in this connection is a graduate seminar, “Fake News” Racialized Propaganda, Media Responsibility,” which he plans to develop as a book-length project.