Pulitzer Prize Awarded: In the wake of Fake News, the Panama Papers Shine as a Model for Digitalized Journalism.

The Panama Papers investigation is considered to be the largest such investigation in the history of journalism, not only in terms of the scandal scope, but also in terms of the gigantic amount of information considered and digitalized. Eleven and a half million (11.5 mil.!) confidential documents served as sources for the related research. The “documents” included e-mails, spreadsheets, images, and of course multi-page text documents. The investigation into the Panama Papers has become a model for truly inspiring journalism in an era of fake news and digitalization.

“Big data” and how to quickly generate real and important knowledge from the vast amount of data played a central role in the research follow-up. The key to the success of the Panama Papers coup was neo4j, a graph technology. It was used together with the visualization platform, Linkurious, to structure the deeply linked data and to allow easy journalist access. Graph databases are particularly suitable for management purposes and for handling queries of highly networked, multifaceted data. Relationships and complex contexts between data can be analyzed quickly and easily. For the journalists, this meant that they could follow money traces money simply.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want to belittle the efforts of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and the two journalists of the well-known German daily, The Süddeutsche Zeitung. I wouldn’t want to reduce their tremendous achievement to the use of technology only. On the contrary. But such a revelation would not have been possible ten years ago – at least not within a similar time frame. As fake news and post-fact journalism seek to influence us every day, this is a really good news, isn’t it? Congratulations to the ICIJ! Thank you for your courage and conviction, as well as for the visionary use of modern technology in your work.

Thomas Hahnel