WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Persistence Pays Off for Freelance Journalist

Dec 8, 2015

Brandon Smith gets credit for forcing the city of Chicago to release video that showed a police officer shooting unarmed teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times.

Smith is a freelance journalist and one of many reporters who filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain a copy of the police dashboard camera video.  The city initially stonewalled reporters.  Smith is the only one who followed through with a lawsuit, and that suit eventually forced the city to release the video.

Shop Talk panelist Rich Egger wondered why the city’s large, well-staffed newsrooms did not lead the charge.  He feels they dropped the ball. He said it’s important now for the Chicago media to do follow up stories – something that’s already started.

Panelist Jonathan Ahl said he is disappointed with the Chicago media.  And he emphasized FOIA serves all citizens – not just journalists. He said it’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure government documents, videos, etc. are available to the public.

Ahl hopes governments start to get the message that the cover up is always worse than the crime.

Panelist Jasmine Crighton said the Chicago media appears to be out of touch with its audience.  She said it’s also possible some reporters are a bit too close to the police department. 

Crighton wondered if some reporters simply gave up on the FOIA process as it dragged on.  Egger said following up on a denied FOIA request is not terribly time consuming and something that journalists in large newsrooms should’ve been able to find time to do