Brandon Smith, a young independent journalist in Chicago who was widely praised for his work uncovering the police video of the Laquan McDonald shooting, visited Ithaca College to accept an Izzy award last week. Smith also visited our independent media class on Thursday to discuss his work and his life as a young independent journalist.
Smith is most well known for suing the city of Chicago after the city denied his request to obtain the video of the murder of Laquan McDonald. Smith’s efforts helped lead to the arrest of a police officer and a Justice Department investigation of the city. The city fought to keep the video undercover, and it did long enough to ensure mayor Rahm Emanuel’s re-election. Glenn Greenwald, perhaps the most well-known independent journalist of his generation, wrote that Smith “just broke one of the biggest and most important police brutality stories of the decade through intrepid determination and an adversarial posture to those in power.”
While the mainstream outlets in Chicago had accepted the rejection of a FOIA, Smith fought to get the video released. In an interview with Greenwald, Smith described that the other media in the city were too cozy with the police department and other official sources. “I do agree with a lot of people who say that they, these other media outlets failed in their watchdog job,” he said. “But it’s not so much like a really obvious failure it’s more of like, just a general trusting on their part of government and process.” When the other outlets were told releasing the video would impact the investigation they accept it; Smith admirably fought on.
At Ithaca College, Smith spoke about the struggles of being an independent journalist. He left his job as a reporter at a small daily in Ohio to strike it out on his own. Smith spoke a lot about the advantages and disadvantages of being an independent. For Smith, the advantages are centered around the freedom from strict oversight and corporate influence and the disadvantages were mainly financial. Smith joked about his family wanting him to get a “real job” sometimes, but said the freedom he receives as an independent to cover the stories he finds important is worth the financial instability. Smith is an inspiring independent journalist and I am happy we got the opportunity to meet him and talk to him.