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February 27, 2017; Poynter and ICIJ Blog

After 20 years under the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), the international consortium of journalists that investigated the Panama Papers is now fully independent and ready to take on the world.

“The decision to move to independent status was not easy. It was prompted by a strategic assessment of where we are and where we want to go next. We believe this new structure will allow us to extend our global reach and impact even farther and build on the lessons we’ve learned and the successes we’ve enjoyed,” a statement said.

“We believe that today, more than ever, some stories are too big, too complex and too global to be tackled by lone-wolf investigative reporters or even in individual news organizations.”

The International Consortium for Investigative Journalism (ICIJ) announced last fall that it would separate from the Pulitzer Prize–winning CPI, which founded the Consortium in 1997. The Center’s financial struggles forced the Consortium to cut staff even as the fallout from the Panama Papers investigation continued to make waves. ICIJ coordinated a network of 400 journalists across the world to carry out the reporting, which was honored just last week with a George Polk Award for sparking official investigations and reforms aimed at combating global tax dodging and money laundering. The Consortium accurately points to the positive developments that have empowered and strengthened investigative journalism: “Information is being offered to journalists on a scale never before thought possible, not only from whistleblowers such as the Panama Papers’ so-called John Doe, but also from publicly available sources—government websites, data obtained through freedom of information laws, and corporate reports.”

We believe investigative reporting ought to be taking better advantage of technology and the new abundance of information. Despite all the problems that mainstream journalism faces these days, we see this as a time of opportunity. We have an opportunity to do better reporting, to better defend fundamental human rights and to make nonprofit investigative journalism a powerful voice for justice around the globe.

But the Consortium team, numbering 15, is also all-too-familiar with the financial issues that have plagued news outlets since the dawn of the Internet age. As Poynter reported:

ICIJ is also looking to expand its staff over the course of the year. Two of the three journalists that were laid off after the Panama Papers investigation have been hired back on, making a current full-time staff of 15. By the end of the year, ICIJ hopes to have 20 employees on the payroll, including a business-side staffer to handle financial matters. Ultimately, the goal will be to develop enough revenue streams so that the ICIJ doesn’t rely entirely on deep-pocketed donors…

There are encouraging signs on the horizon. Ryle says the consortium is in talks to land a grant from a major foundation funder, and individual donations to ICIJ saw a huge bump after the Panama Papers. They received about $200,000 in “mom and pop” donations after the investigation published, the same kind of boost that other nonprofit news organizations have received in the wake of Trump’s election.

ICIJ leaders have pointed to the unique collaborative model that allows the organization to multiply its reach by working with member journalists from more than 60 countries as well as media sources and nonprofits across the world.

Still, as new media models—and the nonprofit sector—have shown us, financial stability is an uphill battle. And as NPQ reported, a history of investigative journalism showed that it’s “expensive and almost never profitable.”

NPQ reported on a collaborative news operation that tracked election issues in the U.S. late last year. We’ll be watching to see how ICIJ capitalizes on the post-election spike for nonprofit journalism in attention and donations.—Anna Berry