Panama Papers shows the value of newsrooms

Robert Cribb, the Toronto Star's lead investigator for the Panama Papers series and Ryerson journalism instructor, stopped in to the Ryersonian newsroom to explain what has happened in the investigation so far. (Dylan Bell/Ryersonian Staff)

Robert Cribb, the Toronto Star’s lead investigator for the Panama Papers series and Ryerson journalism instructor, stopped in to the Ryersonian newsroom to explain what has happened in the investigation so far. (Dylan Bell/Ryersonian Staff)

Four hundred journalists from 109 media organizations in more than 80 countries working together in 25 different languages to crack open the biggest data leak in history.

Now say again that journalism’s a dying industry?

The leak of about 11.5 million documents from a Panamanian law firm specializing in anonymous offshore companies shook the world with its big reveals of the elite’s global network of hidden assets and tax evasion.

It also shook the world of journalism, making waves for a field many fear has gone stagnant, as small-town papers are folding and big city media are downsizing.

Perhaps traditional journalism is dying. As news goes digital, it’s likely that newspapers may soon go the way of cassette tapes and landline phones. But the spirit of journalism – of investigation and truth seeking – lives on.

Orchestrated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists – the American investigative journalism organization – reporters from different companies worked together for a year to dig through the Panama Papers’ data avalanche. They maintained such secrecy around this investigation that not even The New York Times knew the project was underway.

Such co-operation between competitors goes against the journalist’s instinct to be the first to get the scoop. But the instinct to combat corruption with the power of truth runs deeper.

And this is why society still needs a profession that dedicates its workers and resources to asking difficult questions and holding those in power accountable for their actions. Buzzfeed lists and political memes cannot replace investigative reporting.

Thanks to the Internet, this profession will be looking very different in a few years’ time. But the digital world that was said to be journalism’s grim reaper was what made the leak of this information and the global collaboration between journalists possible.

Check out The Ryersonian’s exclusive video interview with Robert Cribb, the Toronto Star’s lead investigator.

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