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Panama Papers: How the world’s largest collaborative investigation came together

By Soo Rin Kim

Journalists who worked on the Panama Papers came together at the IRE Conference to discuss what it take to pull off the world’s largest collaborative investigation. Chrys Wu of The New York Times moderated the panel, which included Michael Hudson, Mar Cabra and Joachim Dyfvermark. Here are some of the most important factors that made the Panama Papers possible.

1. Networking

Headquartered in Washington D.C., the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists works on global investigations with hundreds of new outlets around the world. While ICIJ provides the data and analysis tools, local media partners are responsible for their own reporting for their own audience. Michael Hudson, a senior editor at ICIJ, said this model allows a tight network of journalists to do reporting without the huge financial burden of such a project. Mar Cabra, who heads ICIJ's data and research unit, said this is not only a good reporting model, but also a good business model.

2. Sharing

Journalism can be quite secretive and exclusive, but Cabra said sharing was the key to success for the Panama Papers.

“Radical sharing,” was the guiding principle for the Panama Papers. This means, if you’re on the team, you have access to every single thing. Cabra said ICIJ did not censor any documents or data shared with its partners. Joachim Dyfvermark, a Swedish investigative reporter an ICIJ member, also pointed out that journalists not only shared leaked documents, but also data analysis, story drafts and infographics. Hudson said sharing and swapping findings and story drafts also worked as a multi-step accuracy check.

3. Technology

Cabra also emphasized the importance of cutting-edge technology. Because this project started with leaked documents, it was important for all of the 270 journalists working on the investigation to use a highly secured platform. Panama Papers journalists used multiple passcodes to access to the data and highly encrypted emails to protect sources and information.

To share their findings and story drafts, the Panama Papers team used “Global I-Hub,” a high-security, open source software that allows journalists to share and comment on files, links and story ideas.

Using Neo4J and LinkUrious, news outlets that lacked data teams could still visually explore relationships in the huge database.

4. Multiplatform

Panama Papers was a multiplatform project in a literal sense – it was published by hundreds of news outlets around the world. But the role of the interactive story on ICIJ's website cannot be ignored. Different elements of the story, including complex topics like tax evasion, were told in audience-friendly ways, including videos, photos, interactive infographics and even a game.

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