Breathing new life into a murdered journalist’s work

In October 2017, the Maltese blogger and investigative reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia needed to go to the bank. Her account had been blocked after a government minister filed a defamation charge against her. She left her house, got into her car—a Peugeot 108—and set off. Three minutes later, she was dead. The cause? A car bomb, lodged under the driver’s seat.

Two weeks later, the French journalist Laurent Richard launched his project “Forbidden Stories” at the Newseum in Washington, DC. Richard had developed the idea—an encrypted platform allowing endangered journalists to upload their work—as a Knight-Wallace fellow at the University of Michigan one year earlier. Its intended purpose was twofold: to deter would-be attacks on journalists by backing up their work, and to publicize murders and disappearances of colleagues such as Caruana Galizia.

ICYMI: “Suddenly, the car jerks back as a fiery explosion rips through the front seats”

This week, Forbidden Stories launched “The Daphne Project,” the first results of a secret, months-long collaboration between 45 journalists from 18 outlets around the world, including The New York Times, The Guardian, Reuters, and top papers in France, Italy, and Germany. Together, reporters worked to unpack the circumstances of Caruana Galizia’s murder and expose the web of corruption in Malta that made it possible. Over the coming weeks, they’ll drip out a series of stories based on reporting left unfinished at the time of her death.

“Most of the members have also worked with ICIJ [the organization behind the Panama Papers] or the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, so it’s a group of investigative journalists who believe in collaborative journalism,” Richard told me this morning. “Behind one sentence you can find five journalists… Everyone who decided to come [on board] came ready to avoid competition, ready to share information with the others, for that specific mission: continuing the work of one dead reporter. I’m very impressed by that kind of commitment.”

Ahead of Forbidden Stories’s launch last year, I spoke with Richard and his team about the project. One of his deputies, Jules Giraudat, said, “The idea is to say to the people who would arrest or kill a journalist that if they do so there will be 10, 20, 30, or perhaps 40 journalists who will continue his work, and make sure that the story doesn’t get killed as well, but continues and makes more noise.” At the time, I thought that sounded ambitious. “The Daphne Project” proves they’re only just getting started.

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Below, some of the stories from “The Daphne Project” so far:

  • It can happen here: The New York Times assesses the political context for the killing, looking into Malta’s deepening corruption problem and the headache it poses for the European Union.
  • “It was like a war zone”: This deep-dive multimedia package from Reuters includes a video interview with Caruana Galizia’s son, Matthew, also an investigative journalist. “The next few days were just….one battle after another,” he says. “There was just no time to grieve.”
  • Following the money: Le Monde’s Anne Michel and Jean-Baptiste Chastand picked up Caruana Galizia’s investigation into Pilatus Bank—a secretive Maltese conduit for Azerbaijani government investments across the EU. (Read here in French.)
  • Still in danger: The Guardian spoke to Caruana Galizia’s husband, Peter, who lives alone under around-the-clock police protection since security experts said it was too dangerous for his sons to remain in Malta. “It is clear to us that the three men arraigned so far are simply contractors commissioned by a third party,” he says. “My sons and I are not convinced that our government really wants to establish who sent them, for fear such persons are in fact very close to our government.”

 

Other notable stories:

  • For CJR, the Tow Center’s Pete Brown reports that some local publishers’ Facebook posts have seen up to 56 percent less interaction of late, despite Mark Zuckerberg’s pledge to boost local sources on the platform: “Facebook, it appears, is already missing the mark on one of its central goals for 2018: giving local news a shot in the arm, at least when judged by its own measure of success, ‘meaningful interactions.’”
  • Drama at Harper’s: Editor James Marcus told Publisher’s Lunch that he was fired last week for “opposing the publication of Katie Roiphe’s cover story in the March issue.” Marcus says publisher Rick MacArthur assigned the piece—a widely criticized essay on “Twitter feminism” which led Moira Donegan to out herself as creator of the “shitty media men” list—but Harper’s publicist Giulia Melucci says she actually assigned it, then took a bizarre potshot at Marcus in an interview with The New York Times (“Maybe think about the fact that the publicist had to assign stories because the editor didn’t have ideas? I don’t know — maybe that’s how bad it was”). Confused? Same.
  • Reuters reporter Dean Yates has this moving account of his recurring battle with PTSD. “In 2016, I was treated in a psychiatric unit for PTSD after a career spent covering conflict and tragedy,” he writes. “Last July, I was back in Ward 17. It was time to face up to my moral injury and the event that drove me into mental hell.” Last year, CJR’s Chava Gourarie profiled Yates for CJR.
  • CJR’s Jonathan Peters interviews Rob Balin, the media lawyer who convinced a judge to out Sean Hannity as Michael Cohen’s client earlier this week. “When it seemed the judge would keep the client’s identity under seal, Balin stood up in the second row of the gallery, apologized for interrupting, introduced himself, and informed the court of a ‘public access issue,’” Peters writes. “Then, with the court’s permission, he approached the podium and argued that the client’s identity should be disclosed publicly.”
  • Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell cited Michael Smith and Polly Mosendz’s Bloomberg Businessweek investigation as she introduced legislation to address safety defects in firearms.
  • ICYMI yesterday, one of the brothers in charge of Sinclair was found to have maxed out donations to Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte, who as a candidate attacked Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs then lied to police about it.
  • And finally, I reported in January that new Trump administration tariffs on newsprint coming from Canada could cost jobs at already-cash-strapped US newspapers. Yesterday, the Tampa Bay Times confirmed it’s laying off around 50 employees as a direct response to the tariffs.

ICYMI: The unknown former FBI official who deserves journalists’ support

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Jon Allsop is a freelance journalist. He writes CJR's newsletter The Media Today. Find him on Twitter @Jon_Allsop.