What #PanamaPapers Teaches Us About Journalism Today

Copyright: FlickR — Jon S

Day after day the Panama Papers scandal is revealing the misconduct of the world’s elite. The stories are wreaking havoc for those whose secret offshore tax havens have been exposed and heads of states, politicians, and important actors in the global financial system, the world of football, and some celebrities, are now the players in a story that is far from reaching its end. While the story is still unfolding, it is important to realize what the actions of the journalists involved can tell us about the state of journalism in the twenty-first century.

We should not forget the power of a coordinated free press

The release of the Panama Papers required the collaboration of 109 media organizations, all members of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). A team of over 370 journalists, from almost 80 countries, sifted through over 11.5 million documents, in complete secrecy, for almost one year, and exposed corruption and tax evasion by the world’s elite, including 143 leading politicians and 12 heads of state.

Copyright: Wikimedia Common

This enormous operation has once again revealed the power of the press while placing an emphasis on the impact that coordinated journalism can have across borders. The breaking news has led to the retirement of Iceland’s Prime Minister, Sigmunder David Gunlaugsson, and the undertaking of various criminal investigations in France, Austria, the Netherlands, and Australia, among other countries.

By secretly and collectively putting this investigation together these journalists have managed to strike an important blow to the global tax evasion system by breaking a story that has shaken the global elite to its core and brought the importance of fiscal transparency to light. In noting the intricate coordination of this event and willingness of so many media sources to hold back stories and act as a collective, it is striking to identify the role that inclusiveness and collective determination played in the operation.

The rebirth of journalism

The ongoing discourse surrounding journalism has been that it has succumbed to popular demand, that it is becoming less insightful, less pertinent, and less impactful. There is an opinion that the digitalization of the media and a shift towards reactionary reporting has overshadowed well investigated stories that highlight important global issues. Some argue that we live in a world of mass coverage and news that lacks depth and research, which threatens democracy and free press because of the lack of credible information.

Panama Papers serves to remind us, however, that a journalism of substance still exists and that there is a community of writers and journalists who aim to have a positive impact. But journalists aren’t only inspiring change by exposing the criminal activity of powerful people, they are also sharing solutions to pressing global problems.

Projects such as The Solutions Journalism Network, co-founded by David Bornstein of the New York Times ‘Fixes’ column aim to accompany news sources in the publishing of solutions-based stories. Operations like Sparknews’ Impact Journalism Day (IJD) have, for the last four years, brought together over 50 newspapers, to give a voice to over 400 innovative solutions. And organisations such as the Center for Investigative Journalism defend, aid, and fund operations like Panama Papers.

All publications’ members of Impact Journalism Day network

These coordinated efforts, to work with journalists across borders and language barriers, and identify credible projects that are making a measureable impact shows a willingness among journalists and the press to have a positive influence.

Furthermore, there exists a new, younger audience that knows how to handle digital platforms and is willing to search for credible information across a variety of sources. For example, The Guardian knew it had to make its online platforms appealing to a wider public and so created an online portal with access to all their articles and video content. The portal received the Guardian’s third largest readership of the year.

These alliances will allow newspapers to win back the readers they once had ; benefitting their business models along with society. Finally we can move away from an era of media monopolies, where individual papers fought to break exclusive stories, and move towards a new era of collaboration where operations like Panama Papers embody the power of an international alliance to expose the truth and have a positive impact on the future.

Article written by our best Australian content mate: @LCaffarel