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Memory stick journalism, part I

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Memory stick journalism

Last week a fairly extraordinary journalistic endeavour broke in The Guardian, The Washington Post and other publications around the globe.

The Pandora Papers are the biggest ever leak of offshore data, exposing the tax affairs of the rich and the powerful, of which Tony Blair was but one.

It’s important work.

Papers outside the data drop can be sniffy about “memory stick journalism” imagining it to simply be a case of culling stories from the dropped material.

It is much harder than that. In this case there were about 12 million documents to go through, with the story never in a single place. The documents are more like intricate jigsaw puzzles, where some of the pieces are missing and need to be sourced elsewhere.

(I’m relying for much of this on The Guardian’s own excellent podcast.)

Around 600 hacks collaborated over many months, a fairly unusual state of affairs in the first place, given the levels of trust required.

So one hack might find an interesting doc on Mrs X and post about it on the project website. Another says, “Look, I found this other doc and that could mean that Mrs X is secretly using funds from corrupt company Y”.

Then a local expert chimes in and says “Yes, it does mean what you think it does, because five years ago I reported that Mrs X used company Y to buy her luxury yacht. Here’s the local report (and English translation).”

Who are these guys?

Well, folk who are psychologically disposed to sitting on their own for months on end cracking a series of financial riddles.

Think of them as types who carry spare encrypted drives in their hemp work satchels, and have a ready supply of post-it notes and coloured pencils.

No, not all of them are single. Some have decent working copies of what look like functioning relationships.

We need them. And if the PR industry doesn’t find them unnerving, it should.

I’ll try to explain why tomorrow.

Press release of the day

The car industry is in crisis, you may have read. There’s no chips, not enough labour and not enough parts.

This from the SMMT presents a somewhat different picture. The car trade did fall 26% during 2020 but at £74 billion is still huge.

Car exports are worth £27 billion, Britain’s most valuable trade good.

There’s a future in there somewhere.


The company that is above PR

Tomorrow's Business

Memory stick journalism, part II


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