Last night, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) published the fruits of an explosive, multi-year worldwide investigation into offshore tax havens. It’s not the first such investigation of theirs, and shows just what can happen when outlets collaborate to dissect matters of public interest.
Journalists from a variety of countries and outlets (including Canada’s own CBC/Radio-Canada) sifted through 2.5 million leaked documents to expose the wealthy people who stash their earnings in covert companies and trusts in places like the British Virgin Islands and Cook Islands. Many of these people are politically connected, like class-action attorney Tony Merchant, whose wife is Canadian Senator Pana Merchant.
This kind of investigation is likely the reason many young journalists go into the business – the promise of serving as an important check/balance on an increasingly unchecked oligarchy of corporate wealth and political corruption. But it’s also the kind of investigation that is less and less common these days. Not only are such projects expensive, they require long-term commitment (and by extension, long-term employees). We’re talking hours upon hours upon hours of paid labour that, for a long time, does not yield content to populate a homepage. It’s an investment in which many publications and outlets seem to have dwindling (if any) interest.
Not to get all York University grad student here, but let’s not forget that many of the media’s powerful people have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo of wealth distribution. It’s worth noting that the only Canadian outlet ICIJ listed as a participant in the investigation is a public broadcaster. What is the best way to ensure this type of work gets funded and produced?
British investigative journalist David Leigh has a few ideas, including a small monthly levy on broadband connections, and collaboration among outlets in the style we saw with the ICIJ investigation. The former is likely to draw considerable ire from people who read the news (much as paywalls have done and perhaps moreso). The latter has worked well in some cases but still requires outlets that have an interest in investing, to some extent or another, in stories with long-term payoff. Other possibilities include crowd-funded stories and investigations sponsored by non-profit or educational organizations.
Where do you go for good investigative journalism? What are your thoughts and feelings on the options above? What other ideas have you come across? Tell me in the comments or better yet, discuss it with industry peers at the MediaTech Commons, a private community for digital media workers to vent, plot, and share their experiences.