“If you want to do something evil, put it inside something boring.” – John Oliver, referring to attacks on net neutrality
When I was on staff at daily papers, I covered hundreds of little stories. These days I can be more selective about what I cover. I like to report stories that make a difference in people’s lives.
So I’m pursuing that, through a fellowship from the New England Center for Investigative Reporting. As an independent journalist, I pitch pieces to editors and producers who know me, from a dozen or so outlets. I also collaborate with friends to build a SecureDrop instance. (These allow whistleblowers to anonymously submit material to independent journalists.) Ours should be on line soon.
Since most people don’t have time to read a dozen of my pieces, I’ve picked the top five essentials. If you want to read more, the list continues below. (And for those interested in knowing all the small papers at which I worked in the early 2000s, here’s a resume.)
If you want to talk, reach me at hey -at- brandonsmith -dot- com.
I was the sole reporter/writer for this 2500-word feature that was the cover of Chicago’s alt weekly one week in April 2015. We distilled a highly technical topic into explanations and stories that everyone can understand. I also guided a photographer through the story, so she knew what and whom to shoot.
2. Dayton (Ohio) Daily News
To write this story–which I learned, reported, and filed in less than six hours total–I teamed up with my company’s veteran crime reporter. (I believe he had covered the original trial in 1991!) I was tipped off that day that a judge cleared a long-time convict for release, so I scrambled to learn his back story and arrive on the scene for his tearful meeting with family. I wrote the top 75% of the story and my colleague checked my work and filled out the copy.
3. Springfield (Ohio) News-Sun
I reported this enterprise story by myself over the course of six weeks, eventually earning 2nd place for investigative reporting in the Ohio Associated Press awards. I told the stories of legit doctors who were scared shitless by the state medical board–at the hands of politicians who wanted to appear tough on drugs–and legit patients who were scared shitless by the prospect of going without pain meds.
4. Springfield (Ohio) News-Sun
The headline might seem underwhelming, but the story is much more salacious. (Unfortunately it’s hard to prove that schools *were* misled–you be the judge.) To get the story, I asked schools near me whether they had been serving beef of a certain, newly-chided type, and they all said “no.” They were confident because they had been reassured by their distributors. I asked to read the letters from the distributors. The letters essentially used legalese to trick administrators.
I pitched this story as a freelancer and reported, for the Tribune’s tech blog, the ins and outs of producing a piece of consumer technology that had no predecessor. It’s not an easy task.
Still a glutton for punishment? I’ve included more reporting below.
I was the primary reporter in a small team to learn who was likely being surveilled–a politician’s daughter–by Chicago police when they slipped up and discussed no-warrant cell tapping technology over public police radio.
I wrote the cover story to the architecture glossy “Green Building + Design” when it teamed up with Passive House Institute U.S. to make an issue about the passive building standard.
When a house exploded in our sister paper’s coverage area on a Saturday, I hauled ass and my story [PDF] made inside pages of USA Today and the Washington Post, in addition to other outlets, totaling “554 similar articles” on Google News.
I followed a family whose house was slowly killing them until they recognized a mercury spill. Here’s part two of three.
When activists were telling people to switch from banks to credit unions, I researched whether credit unions were actually better for society. Eventually we found a news peg and could tell the story.
My story about gross error in cause-of-death reporting was covered 9 weeks later by ProPublica.
I’ve reported on countless environmental gaffes and scientific phenomena, which if you had to choose, you’d call my specialties. My story about mosquito disease testing was picked up by the Houston Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner.