“Why the f*** share?” Because cross-border collaboration is necessary for successful investigations.

By Anna Klein

Nike shoes were the subject of much of the discussion during the fourth day of the 10th Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Johannesburg. This however was not due to a secret international dress code among investigative journalists but due to the focus of their global cross-border cooperation. In fact many of the journalists at the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung bought the shoes during their research on the Paradise Papers to track down where and how the international shoe brand is using retailers in different countries to save taxes.

This kind of collaboration isn’t always easy. Frederik Obermaier from the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung remembers the resistance of his editors when his team wanted to share the data set which got leaked to him and his colleagues: “Why the f*** share?” was the question that came up? This which they once did with the Panama Papers, they did it again, sharing a data set with 382 reporters from all over the world. “When confronting officials, such a crowd is helpful”, Obermaier said.  He added that collaboration and an event like his for him was like “meeting a big family and old school friends, and his is always to have project collaborations.

Marina Guevara from ICIJ put up the 3 or rather 4 T’s of collaboration; trust, tools & technology and teamwork. “We are reporting together from Day 1 to the publication together,” she said, “…we don’t leave anybody behind, until the final publication”.

The latest dataset the ICIJ shared was across 67 countries. Guevara shared that they did this because it was important for the different components of the story but also for the sake of the ICIJ’s work in challenging the key actors in their stories. “Most of our media partners, I’ve never met, but we know who we have the most trust with as reporters,” Guevara says about the importance of heir collaborations.

Her top seven social competencies for investigative reporters:

  1. Commitment,
  2. Self-awareness,
  3. Emotional Control,
  4. Decision making,
  5. Optimism,
  6. Empathy,
  7. Communication

Roman Anin from Novaya Gazeta, Moscow, mentioned the number-one rule for journalists in Russia was never to make a story personal. Anin was personally accused of being an American spy after having published findings of the Panama Papers. “If you work on these stories in Russia the security concern is another level. So we were a bit more paranoid”. For him, competition is the root of all evil in the field of investigative journalism.

Paul Radu from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Program highlighted that the greatest achievement was that journalists have confronted national state authorities. “Law enforcement always stops at the border and the payment for authorities is local.” Journalists, in fact, today can easily work across borders. And there is much need for this kind of cooperation, because we don’t even investigate 1% of all the corruption taking place in the world”, Radu said.

PHOTO: Marina Walker from International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) explains the essential social competencies that investigative reporters need to be part of collaborations like that of the paradise papers. Photo: Anna Klein.