Panama Papers: Should journalists always be between data and readers?

Panama Papers. Should journalists be always between data and readers?

The Open Data movement seeks to increase the transparency of public data and the ability of the citizens to monitor the good governance exercised by public authorities. In recent years, this movement has become a cornerstone of citizens seeking to improve their quality of life and help solve problems affecting the entire society. In this context of democratization of information, the role of journalists is essential. They are those who earnestly seek new sources of information, possible cases of malpractice (e.g. corruption) and write stories that will then be published in media, reaching the general public.

Long before the term Open Data was coined, journalists had already been conducting investigative journalism, now known as data journalism, among other reasons because their credibility as professionals was measured by the number of irrefutable facts (often these facts are data) that they introduced in their articles. Therefore the role of investigative journalism and journalists themselves is not new or secondary.

A question that is being asked for some time is is whether or not journalists should always act as intermediaries between the original data source and the end reader. In our historical context, citizens have access to large amounts of information. In addition, we have access to physical media (hardware) as well as data and programs like Quadrigram (software) turning us automatically into potential partners capable of our own performance.

One of the most influential organizations in the first decade of the century is Wikileaks. Wikileaks publishes the vast majority of the data it receives with little prior treatment (except in cases where personal data may be a threat to the personal safety of the affected, such as the home address of a senior US government). This methodology allows that:

  1. All citizens have access (or could have access) to information at the same time.
  2. Everyone have access to the same amount of information.

More recently, in the case of the Panama Papers, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) received the original data before April 3, 2016, when they began to publish articles related to the topic. However, unlike Wikileaks, the consortium decided not to publish the raw data and instead, publish their own analyzes to communicate to the general public up until May 10, 2016. More than a month apart since journalists began with a trickle of names until the publication of the original documents that are supposed to be complete (at the publication date of this article).

The questions that arise are:

  1. Is it possible that journalists who use this method enter the same dynamics that the Open Data movement tries to avoid (to publish depending on interested or political priority)?
  2. Shouldn’t society require journalists to publish the raw data for those citizens willing and being able to perform their own analysis and draw their own conclusions?

We believe that Quadrigram and similar tools help more and more journalists, information professionals and citizens in general to be able to efficiently analyze published data. So everyone can find the stories hidden in this sea of numbers and letters and thus achieve a fairer, more transparent and efficient society. This is a strong motivation for us to continue improving Quadrigram every day.

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