There’s been Swissleaks, Luxleaks, NSA leaks and Yanukovychleaks. There are stories about shell companies buying up New York, Petrobras bribery investigations and politicians laundering their money. There is the ICIJ, the GIJN, the BIJ, and the OCCRP (to name but a few).
So it seems that rumours about the demise of investigative journalism have been greatly exaggerated.
Only a few short years ago many people were sounding the death knell. News was moving from print to digital, ad sales were down, the financial crisis was taking its toll and newsrooms were closing or shrinking across the globe. With money so tight it was hard to justify these in-depth, time consuming, resource draining investigations.
So what’s brought about this change?
Well one of the transformations has been in the way that investigative journalists work. While in the past they may have been solitary creatures, reluctant to share their information and sources a cultural change towards collaborative journalism is happening. Journalists are now sharing their methods and skills and are working together to break stories. Alongside this, access to information is also increasing and data journalism is on the rise. Data analysis and data visualisation are helping investigative journalists transform enormous amounts of information into easily accessible and compelling stories.
While collaboration and the use of technology are undeniably leading this revival in investigative journalism other external trends are also playing their part. In a world where people, money, and businesses can quickly and freely move across borders it means that crime and corruption are also going global. Investigating international corruption cases, following illicit flows of money across borders or just swathing through huge amounts of data files takes cooperation, technological expertise and many other skill sets.
Here at Transparency International we recognise that investigative journalism and high quality reporting are vital components in fighting corruption. It not only raises awareness among the public and policy-makers but it can highlight systemic risks and trends. Of course journalism and its possible effect of naming and shaming can also be a very effective deterrent.
At the EU level we also need solutions and knowledge that go beyond borders. There needs to be an evidence base for EU policymaking particularly regarding the transnational elements of corruption and we need to provide evidence of the lack of implementation of anti-corruption measures. That is why along with our project partner JournalismFund.eu we are creating the European Corruption Observatory (ECO).
ECO will provide a platform for exchange and networking and a taxonomy for corruption stories. ECO is a new media monitoring tool that will focus solely on corruption related stories. The ECO database will collate all media stories about corruption from the top 5 media sites in each of the 28 member states. The content will then be tagged which will allow for users to search the database for media stories by country, named individual (and variants), named company, sectors and type of corruption (bribery, fraud, undue influence etc. and combinations of these). This will help facilitate the analysis and identification of trends in corruption across the EU as well as assist in the identification of cross-border cases of corruption.
Sitting alongside this media monitoring tool will be ECO match – a “dating website” for all those interested in investigating corruption. This online portal will create a network of journalists, hackers, civil society, corruption experts, policy makers and law enforcement agencies across all of the member states. This will help encourage further collaboration among the network and assist users in finding key partners around the EU to further their investigations into corruption.
In early summer we will be launching the beta phase of the ECO project and taking it on a road trip around Europe. We want to work closely with our stakeholders to ensure that ECO can truly deliver on its potential. Interactive workshops will be held in London, Brussels (at the Data Harvest Conference), Tallinn and Budapest to explore the possibilities of ECO and to help develop and refine the functionalities described above. We are calling on all those interested in fighting corruption to join us at these meetings. Travel and accommodation costs will be available for up to 30 participants at each meeting.