BERTON: A good week for journalism

Opinion Apr 09, 2016 by Paul Berton The Hamilton Spectator

It's an old saying, and oft-repeated in various ways, but I'll go with one credited to George Orwell: "Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations."

By that measure, an awful lot of journalism is in evidence these days, the result of the so-called Panama Papers – which reveal details about how rich folks use offshore companies to hide money.

The journalism is making many people, including national political leaders around the world, very uncomfortable.

Iceland's prime minister resigned Tuesday. British Prime Minister David Cameron is under fire for not coming clean enough about a fund held by his late father. According to reports, a $2-billion trail leads to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

News agencies, working collaboratively under the umbrella of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, began publishing this vast trove of 11 million documents Sunday. In Canada, the Toronto Star and the CBC have access to the material.

The documents come from an anonymous source, and were leaked from the database of Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm that helps clients protect money in offshore accounts.

There's not necessarily anything wrong with sheltering money this way. You might simply enjoy privacy, and we should have no problem with that.

Then again you might have something to conceal, and often people with things to hide are up to no good.

It all adds up to interesting reading, but the story about the story is also interesting.

Journalists are as competitive, even cutthroat, as any professional. How, then, do you get so many to collaborate on such a huge story? They were leaked to a German newspaper a year ago, and shared this week simultaneously by 370 journalists at more than 100 media organizations in 80 countries.

The first answer is this story is complex. Even news organizations that directly compete collaborate on stories too complex to handle alone or too big to keep to themselves.

The second answer is this story is big. Revolutions are made of such things, and all journalists like to change the world by righting wrongs.

Perhaps that's why China ordered news organizations across that country to remove all material related to how relatives and business associates of the county's political elite hide their fortunes.

The story is also a reminder about the importance of "journalism" at a time when many legacy news agencies are facing upheaval.

The information highway is getting wider, longer and faster. More information is at our fingertips than ever before, and that's mostly a good thing.

But social media really can't do this justice, and the business case for spending a year investigating the labyrinthine world of offshore tax havens isn't a strong one.

There is widespread interest, to be sure, but probably not as much as in the latest embarrassment to emerge from the mouth of Donald Trump. That, unfortunately, is a lot easier, faster and cheaper to report.

Paul Berton is editor-in-chief of The Hamilton Spectator and thespec.com. You can reach him at 905-526-3482 or pberton@thespec.com .

BERTON: A good week for journalism

Why journalists collaborated on the Panama Papers

Opinion Apr 09, 2016 by Paul Berton The Hamilton Spectator

It's an old saying, and oft-repeated in various ways, but I'll go with one credited to George Orwell: "Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations."

By that measure, an awful lot of journalism is in evidence these days, the result of the so-called Panama Papers – which reveal details about how rich folks use offshore companies to hide money.

The journalism is making many people, including national political leaders around the world, very uncomfortable.

Iceland's prime minister resigned Tuesday. British Prime Minister David Cameron is under fire for not coming clean enough about a fund held by his late father. According to reports, a $2-billion trail leads to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

News agencies, working collaboratively under the umbrella of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, began publishing this vast trove of 11 million documents Sunday. In Canada, the Toronto Star and the CBC have access to the material.

The documents come from an anonymous source, and were leaked from the database of Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm that helps clients protect money in offshore accounts.

There's not necessarily anything wrong with sheltering money this way. You might simply enjoy privacy, and we should have no problem with that.

Then again you might have something to conceal, and often people with things to hide are up to no good.

It all adds up to interesting reading, but the story about the story is also interesting.

Journalists are as competitive, even cutthroat, as any professional. How, then, do you get so many to collaborate on such a huge story? They were leaked to a German newspaper a year ago, and shared this week simultaneously by 370 journalists at more than 100 media organizations in 80 countries.

The first answer is this story is complex. Even news organizations that directly compete collaborate on stories too complex to handle alone or too big to keep to themselves.

The second answer is this story is big. Revolutions are made of such things, and all journalists like to change the world by righting wrongs.

Perhaps that's why China ordered news organizations across that country to remove all material related to how relatives and business associates of the county's political elite hide their fortunes.

The story is also a reminder about the importance of "journalism" at a time when many legacy news agencies are facing upheaval.

The information highway is getting wider, longer and faster. More information is at our fingertips than ever before, and that's mostly a good thing.

But social media really can't do this justice, and the business case for spending a year investigating the labyrinthine world of offshore tax havens isn't a strong one.

There is widespread interest, to be sure, but probably not as much as in the latest embarrassment to emerge from the mouth of Donald Trump. That, unfortunately, is a lot easier, faster and cheaper to report.

Paul Berton is editor-in-chief of The Hamilton Spectator and thespec.com. You can reach him at 905-526-3482 or pberton@thespec.com .

BERTON: A good week for journalism

Why journalists collaborated on the Panama Papers

Opinion Apr 09, 2016 by Paul Berton The Hamilton Spectator

It's an old saying, and oft-repeated in various ways, but I'll go with one credited to George Orwell: "Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations."

By that measure, an awful lot of journalism is in evidence these days, the result of the so-called Panama Papers – which reveal details about how rich folks use offshore companies to hide money.

The journalism is making many people, including national political leaders around the world, very uncomfortable.

Iceland's prime minister resigned Tuesday. British Prime Minister David Cameron is under fire for not coming clean enough about a fund held by his late father. According to reports, a $2-billion trail leads to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

News agencies, working collaboratively under the umbrella of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, began publishing this vast trove of 11 million documents Sunday. In Canada, the Toronto Star and the CBC have access to the material.

The documents come from an anonymous source, and were leaked from the database of Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm that helps clients protect money in offshore accounts.

There's not necessarily anything wrong with sheltering money this way. You might simply enjoy privacy, and we should have no problem with that.

Then again you might have something to conceal, and often people with things to hide are up to no good.

It all adds up to interesting reading, but the story about the story is also interesting.

Journalists are as competitive, even cutthroat, as any professional. How, then, do you get so many to collaborate on such a huge story? They were leaked to a German newspaper a year ago, and shared this week simultaneously by 370 journalists at more than 100 media organizations in 80 countries.

The first answer is this story is complex. Even news organizations that directly compete collaborate on stories too complex to handle alone or too big to keep to themselves.

The second answer is this story is big. Revolutions are made of such things, and all journalists like to change the world by righting wrongs.

Perhaps that's why China ordered news organizations across that country to remove all material related to how relatives and business associates of the county's political elite hide their fortunes.

The story is also a reminder about the importance of "journalism" at a time when many legacy news agencies are facing upheaval.

The information highway is getting wider, longer and faster. More information is at our fingertips than ever before, and that's mostly a good thing.

But social media really can't do this justice, and the business case for spending a year investigating the labyrinthine world of offshore tax havens isn't a strong one.

There is widespread interest, to be sure, but probably not as much as in the latest embarrassment to emerge from the mouth of Donald Trump. That, unfortunately, is a lot easier, faster and cheaper to report.

Paul Berton is editor-in-chief of The Hamilton Spectator and thespec.com. You can reach him at 905-526-3482 or pberton@thespec.com .