The media today: The Paradise Papers, global wealth, & journalistic collaboration

Last March, the editor in chief of German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung stood before a room of investigative journalists in Munich and laid down a few ground rules. “The first rule is that we don’t talk about what we’re doing,” Wolfgang Krach said. “The second rule is we share everything that we find out.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung, the outlet that launched the Panama Papers investigation of 2016, had received a leak of more than 13 million documents detailing the holdings of the international law firm Appleby, and once again, Krach was asking for help. The first results of the collaboration that began in Munich were published on Sunday, in a series of stories based on what have become known as the Paradise Papers.

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The scene described above comes from a Vice News Tonight documentary (HBO subscription required) that debuted on Monday, but the stories emerging from the work of nearly 400 journalists have already made waves around the globe. Süddeutsche Zeitung, the International Consortium of Journalists, and partners on six continents worked for nearly a year to scan documents containing secret investments by some of the world’s richest people. “We’ve gone from Woodward and Bernstein to geeks looking at vast datasets, searching away ’til the early hours,” The Guardian’s Luke Harding says in the documentary. “It’s the age of the leak.”

Already, the Paradise Papers have revealed how major multinational companies like Apple and Nike hide their money offshore, how Kremlin-backed investments helped fuel the rise of Facebook and Twitter, and how members of Donald Trump’s inner circle are connected to Russian oligarchs. The most notable story for US readers is likely the one detailing Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s ties to people close to Vladimir Putin.

Sifting through stories detailing opaque financial maneuverings and shell companies can be stupefying, but ICIJ Deputy Director Marina Walker Guevara argues that these investigations have real-world implications. “This is not an abstract world of corporate structures and numbers,” she tells Vice. “There are real consequences for real people.”

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ICYMI: A stunning scoop landed in my lap. Here’s why we looped in dozens of other newsrooms.

In addition to offering a peek behind the curtain at how the richest stay wealthy by avoiding taxes, the Paradise Papers are an example of the best type of collaboration, a set of methods that becomes more important in our globalized world.

Below, more from the work of the journalists behind the Paradise Papers.

 

Other notable stories

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Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.