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Promoting Adversarial Journalism Over Access Journalism

In Chicago, where I am based, Mayor Rahm Emanuel faces a growing movement against police brutality which is pushing for his resignation. The intensity of this uprising sharply escalated since the release of a video showing Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old black boy, 16 times. That video became public because a local independent journalist Brandon Smith sued the city.

Smith and at least 14 other legacy media organizations submitted Freedom of Information Act requests for the video. Once they were denied, only Smith sued the city and meaningfully challenged the denial. Local media organizations did not want to come off as adversarial or do anything that would risk losing sources at City Hall.

Legacy media organizations are institutions with resources to sue for videos or documents when they are improperly withheld. Yet, as Smith told me after the release of the video, legacy media organizations decided to let Smith do the work of showing the public that the city and police had covered up what happened.

Here at Shadowproof, we celebrate the work of journalists like Brandon Smith. We emulate their work and have a deep contempt for media organizations with managers who are more focused on access journalism than adversarial journalism.

When the U.S. military refused to provide journalists with access to records in Chelsea Manning’s court martial in 2012, I joined various prominent journalists in a lawsuit to force the military to provide access to records. It successfully pushed the military to release documents in real-time during Manning’s trial (although the military refused to produce transcripts of proceedings).

Shadowproof co-founder and journalist Brian Sonenstein has spent months investigating Advanced Correctional Healthcare, a prison healthcare contractor which faces multiple lawsuits for abuse of inmates. Legacy media organizations declined to cover these cases, according to sources, because the victims are seen as criminals and sad stories in prisons are not news, since the public apparently already knows bad stuff happens to inmates.

Journalist Dan S. Wright continues a fight that started in 2013 to get records of former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s official communications in 2009 when his former company, Goldman Sachs, received incredibly favorable terms in the AIG bailout. The latest in this fight, along with a continued focus on corporate malfeasance and an economy leaving more people behind, can be found at Shadowproof’s column, The Bullpen.

From whistleblower cases to prison contractor corruption to class warfare by those in power to police brutality, there is a constant need for reporters who are willing to engage in muckraking. Reporters must take an adversarial stance and be willing to dig deep and challenge institutions. And, depending on what is uncovered, bold statements about findings should follow, including those which empower grassroots activists to renew protests.

Shadowproof’s staff is not only committed to adversarial journalism over access journalism, but we also intend to diversify and grow the community of freelance reporters and independent journalists we support in 2016. We cannot increase our support for other journalists and give these people bigger platforms without you.

Please support adversarial journalists, who rightfully put access journalists to shame each and every day, by clicking here and making a $10, $15, or $25 donation today.

JPMorgan Chase World Headquarters in New York (Michael Premo on Flickr)
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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."