Investigative journalism as a force for civil society

Note from the Center: What we're working on and thinking about

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Spending time with investigative reporters from the ICIJ and dozens of other organizations as well as rugged individuals at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference, it’s evident how vital the role of this form of journalism has become as a force in civil society, for human rights and to hold the powerful to account everywhere.

You could also be forgiven for thinking the industry was in great shape with more than 800 people attending the event in the snow-free off-season Norwegian ski resort of Lillehammer. About a quarter of those attended on travel grants provided by the quasi-government agencies and philanthropic groups that do so much to back investigative reporting. A small percentage of those at the conference were full-time staff of major media groups but several – like The Guardian, Financial Times, USA Today and Thomson Reuters among others — continue to fund large-scale investigations.

But the brands most evident as supporters were the big philanthropic groups such as the Open Society Foundations (OSF) created by George Soros, the Ford Foundation, and Adessium, a Dutch organization. All three of those back the Center for Public Integrity and or the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Others like the Chicago-based Reva & David Logan Foundation, the Norwegian Fritt Ord were there along with the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The ICIJ team played a significant role at the biannual event with dedicated sessions on the #SwissLeaks investigation into the Swiss branch of HSBC and its World Bank investigation, How to Create a Secure Leaks Platform and How to Expose a Tax Haven. In fact that doesn’t fully capture the influence the ICIJ has at the event with its staff team and members scattered through virtually every session.

Non-ICIJ stories which struck me at the event included the dogged work of the Malaysia-born English founder of Sarawak Report whose expose on a billion dollar corruption scandal connecting the Malaysian Prime Minister to a secret UAE donor has been a huge story for the Wall Street Journal. The creator of Sarawak Report Clare Rewcastle-Brown is interviewed here. I was also struck by an investigation into the downing of the Malaysian airliner MH17 over Ukraine — a tragedy misted over by diplomacy and realpolitik. I also hadn’t previously seen this in-depth look at the wealth of Vladimir Putin by a Reuters team.

Politics and obscuring reality with Super-PACS

Back in Washington the Money & Politics drives on into the murky world of the super-PAC forces behind the candidates. Carrie Levine launched a strong exclusive on the Jeb Bush (nearly used the possessive apostrophe there but of course super-PACs are independent of the candidate), Right to Rise and its skill in obscuring what it’s up to. More than 3,000 people endorsed that with a Facebook “Like”.

Dave Levinthal and Michael Beckel uncovered a strong Hillary Clinton advertising piece from the depth of Kantar CMAG advertising data the team is using the plot who’s seeing what and who’s paying for it across the nation. In the same realm and in a piece which explains well how we are using the data is this from Kytja Weir and Chris Zubak-Skees.

What we’re reading (or thinking about)

In the New YorkerMalcolm Gladwell, takes a look at the phenomenon of school shootings and I have a question for you myself. Why aren’t more of them considered domestic terrorism than the act of a madman as they are usually portrayed?  

It’s a slightly different angle to the question President Obama asked.

I also appreciated this collaboration on the Center for Public Integrity site between the Center and The Lens, a nonprofit newsroom in New Orleans. It’s a powerful story of justice and injustice by Katy Reckdahl.

I welcome any feedback on this note.

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