Story by Mack Veltman

Last month, reporter and former UO School of Journalism and Communication student Brandi Smith gained national attention for her coverage of Hurricane Harvey in Houston. Despite the flooding and loss of power, Smith was on the air, broadcasting stories for local CBS affiliate KHOU.

The devastation of the hurricane was plain to see. Battering winds slammed rain into the wet pavement of the Houston beltway, reminding terrified, fleeing residents and exhausted rescue workers that the rage of Hurricane Harvey had not broken. But the winds and rain were only part of the story that unfolded on Aug. 27.

While live-covering the hurricane and its aftermath, Smith and photographer Mario Sandoval spotted a man trapped inside the cab of his truck in nearly 10 feet of rising water at a nearby overpass. Time was running out as the cab filled with water, and a frantic Smith was able to flag down a Harris County Sheriff’s truck and boat, alerting them to the driver’s plight. Smith’s actions helped save the man’s life.

“I cannot imagine how terrifying it would be to be in that place right now,” Smith told viewers as she caught her breath following the emotional ordeal. “Put yourself in that place: Your car is filling with water. Help is on the way. He is incredibly lucky.”

Smith got her start working at KPIC, a television station in Roseburg at the age of 19. In 2003, she began attending the SOJC, worked at the Daily Emerald and anchored for the student-produced Duck U, now known as DuckTV. In 2007, she landed a job as an evening anchor for KEZI, then worked her way up to producer.

“She was a remarkably good student, and not all my students are remarkably good students,” said SOJC Instructor Rebecca Force, a broadcast journalist who had Smith in two classes and advised her in Duck U.

“From what I’ve seen, she’s moved around a lot, been to several different stations—which is pretty typical for someone in the broadcast industry—and she has grown consistently,” Force said.

Smith’s hard work and dedication to telling community stories followed her outside of the classroom. She is known for being an active participant in the stories she tells, whether they are about collecting toys for young children, running in fundraising races or emceeing local events, and her genuine curiosity shows.

“Her work ethic was pretty remarkable,” said Force. “From what I’ve seen in her work, including the most recent observation of her going above and beyond in Huston … without power she was still churning out stories and serving community.”


Mack Veltman is a senior journalism student in the SOJC with an interest in reporting on community-driven stories and exploring journalists’ power to shape public perception and move people to action. He is also interested in stories relating to breakthroughs in science. Read Mack’s reflections on  popular trends in the media and pop culture at movingtides.org.

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