More than 100 people gathered at HanaHaus for our monthly Venture Talk that we are organizing jointly with SAP Bay Area. This time we had the great pleasure of welcoming investigative journalist Marina Walker Guevara who received the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Reporting for the investigation behind one of history’s largest data leaks. Find out what she shared in this recap blog and video replay.
By Elizabeth Somerville from SAP Bay Area
Our July Venture Talk featured Marina Walker Guevara, an investigative journalist and the deputy director of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The ICIJ is a unique organization that is made up of 249 of the best investigative reporters from more than 90 countries and territories, along with more than 100 media organizations, from the world’s most renowned outlets, including the BBC, the New York Times, the Guardian and the Asahi Shimbun, to small regional nonprofit investigative centers. The investigative reporters put all competition aside and come together for the greater good to collaborate on groundbreaking investigations that expose the truth and hold the powerful accountable, while also adhering to the highest standards of fairness and accuracy. Probably the most well known story ICIJ has broken is the Panama Papers, for which the organization received a Pulitzer Prize.
SAP's, Ryan Phillips, sat down with Marina to discuss how investigative journalism has evolved since Woodward and Bernstein met with Deep Throat in an underground parking garage… and how much investigative journalism hasn't changed… Prior to 2016, ICIJ had difficulty engaging with leading US media organizations that prioritized breaking the news first. Today however, that has changed. The New York Times now regularly collaborate with ICIJ on investigations. With such a large network of journalists all working on the same stories together, how do they prevent leaks from happening and keep their sources anonymity? "You feel like you’re working on something bigger than yourself for your country," Marina said. “If you leak the information, who loses? The reader loses and democracy loses.”
Surprising though, leaks aren't the ICIJ's biggest concern. What keeps Marina up at night is the possibility of one planted document in all the thousands of files (documents, audio, video, etc.) they receive during investigations. Managing the amount of data they receive is a huge challenge, compounded by the fact that they will not use developed technology from the private or public sectors or receive funding to develop their own in order to remain unbiased. "It's why open source technology is so helpful to us," Marina said. "We sometimes find ourselves a bit limited and we have to work through partnerships with people who have an understanding of what it takes to do these stories, why they're so sensitive and how to work confidentially with journalists."
Marina explained that sometimes they have to really think outside the box. Up until recently ICIJ has been using the base of a dating app for their communications platform to help their hundreds of journalists from around the world communicate better together. "We just removed the part of the part that asked the participants their preference for men or women or both... and that have been our virtual newsroom for years since the Panama Papers."
A lack of technology available to journalists is one of the primary reasons why Marina has spent the last 12 months as a John S. Knight journalism fellow at Stanford focusing on how investigative journalists can utilize machine learning to make their work much more efficient and accurate.
If this short summary made you even more curious you can watch the whole interview here.