Berto Jongman: Organizing Collaborative Investigative Work

Crowd-Sourcing, Ethics, Media
Berto Jongman
Berto Jongman

How We All Survived Likely the Largest Collaboration in Journalism History

One of the most frequent questions people ask us these days is “How in the world did you get 86 journalists to work together?” 

Photo: Shutterstock.I can understand their puzzlement. Journalists often compete fiercely to scoop each other. When they get a great tip or a unique document they don’t sit and wonder how they can share it with as many of their colleagues around the world as possible.

Many investigative reporters are classic “lone wolves,” working in isolation and extremely protective of their work.

That’s okay, but it would have been a recipe for disaster in the Offshore Leaks investigation.

What we had in front of us was 2.5 million files involving offshore dealings with links to more than 170 countries and territories. Global data on a truly global issue – business dealings and money flows. It became clear very soon that we could not tackle the job effectively from our Washington office or just with the small team of reporters ICIJ initially recruited to analyze the files.

We needed to open up the game as much as possible without compromising the investigation or the sources. It was a risky approach, but we did not see any other way around it.

Last summer, ICIJ member Nicky Hager and I scrolled down the list of 160 ICIJ journalists in more than 60 countries and began to make some choices. It was one of those moments in which having this network of trusted reporters and relationships we have built overtime made a huge difference.

In countries where we didn’t have a member we sought recommendations and checked out the work of potential collaborators. We did not pick journalists based solely on their media affiliation – we were much more interested in choosing the right people, the real diggers and the most trustworthy colleagues. (See, also, How We Chose Our Offshore Reporting Partners).

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