By Hilary Niles
When you think of a company, don’t think of something with a physical presence, like a storefront or a corporate headquarters. That’s just not how companies are organized these days, said Chris Taggart of OpenCorporates.org. And in many cases, he said, there’s simply no single entity that encompasses all of a corporation’s holdings.
Taggart detailed the power of OpenCorporates during "Data for business investigations" with Thomson Reuters CAR editor Maurice Tamman.
Instead, think of a company as a creation of someone’s mind. Rather than occupying a body (or a building), this creation is given a “personality,” so to speak. It’s made into a legal entity. That entity classification means everything — and most likely something different in the various jurisdictions where a company may operate.
The legal entity is what you have to know and understand to cover a company, because it’s what determines everything from the taxes a company has to pay (or not) and what regulations it’s subject to, for starters, Taggart said.
He said that a truly complete picture of corporations is generally unattainable. It’s not for lack of data — there’s plenty of actual data out there, he said. The problem is stitching it all together, since the systems used by different jurisdictions vary so widely. Even services like Lexis-Nexis and Hoovers are limited, draw from the same standard data, don’t reveal the sources of their data, and hold tight to the proprietary rights of their programs.
This is where OpenCorporates comes in. His goal for the site is simple but huge, he said: to amass “an entry for every corporate legal entity in the world.” OpenCorporates is useful to journalists in four key ways: simple searching, digging for additional information about a company, matching company names to legal entities, and as a searchable database built on a free API.
Taggart quoted Thomas Jefferson, who said “Information is the currency of democracy.” Taggart updated that to “data.” You can find some of it at OpenCorporates.org. Find his presentation online.
If he were king, Tamman said, there is one approach he would have every business reporter take to inform readers and say something really substantive about their communities — whether on a national, state or local scale:
Hilary Niles is a graduate student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.