Investigative journalists can discover story leads from scrutinizing financial or asset disclosures. Data journalist Paul Bradshaw shares nine ways to find stories in companies’ accounts, including looking out for conflicts of interest, and mapping connections between companies and directors.
What’s the global data journalism community tweeting about this week? Our NodeXL #ddj mapping from June 3 to 9 finds @sto3psl mapping places the Avengers visited in Europe, @fedfragapane visualizing which elements in the periodic table are in danger of running out, @srfdata highlighting the top worries of the Swiss and @propublica doing researchers and journalists a huge public service by making 3 million US nonprofit records text-searchable.
The German nonprofit news site Correctiv wanted to cover important issues — such as property ownership in German cities — that didn’t have accessible public data. So it created CrowdNewsroom, a platform that enables it to empower readers to contribute to investigations.
Public records sometimes say the darnedest things. One example: A declassified memo from 1977 shows that the NSA wondered if psychics could nuke cities so that they became lost in time and space (yes, like in the post-apocalyptic anime Akira). Other times, it’s what they don’t say — like when the FBI found it necessary to redact the name of Superman’s alter-ego, Clark Kent.
Property records hold a wealth of information. Uncovering who owns land can be critical for reporting on stories ranging from political corruption and environmental crimes to deceitful treatment of indigenous peoples. GIJN has compiled an extensive resource page on property records.
Full Property Guide
Research into property records has played a major role in uncovering corruption. The following sampling, mostly from 2018, shows the variety and importance of investigative reporting in this area. Tracking Official Corruption
“Millionaires Among the Nominees” is a story by the Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo (CIN) based on investigating the property holdings of 121 Bosnian politicians, highlighting the assets of the 10 richest ones. CIN reporters compiled information about the candidates’ property from land records and from asset declarations, combining them into a CIN database of “politicians’ assets.”
Sometimes it’s about tracking down expensive homes owned by public officials and corporate executives, as was done on several occasions by journalists in Armenia. “Skirting Disclosure Laws: Armenian Officials and Their Assets in the Czech Republic” describes a probe conducted by Hetq Online, published by the Association of Investigative Journalists, which also wrote: “Undue Influence?
Full Property Guide
The lack of transparency about property records gets little media attention. It’s just not sexy enough for most journalists, as several land policy experts have lamented. Specific conflicts over land ownership, between local communities and corporate interests, for example, may make national headlines. But the underlying causes of such controversies — including power imbalances, corruption, weak land rights laws and hazy records — go underreported. The lack of accurate records is one of the key problems and the source of widespread insecurity about property rights, experts say. The scope of the undocumented land problem is dauntingly huge.
Finding out who owns land can be tough. While property registration systems exist in almost all countries, the quality and availability of the information vary widely. World Bank experts estimate that only 30 percent of the world’s population has a legally registered title to their land, a widely quoted figure that Bank officials stress is a rough estimate. See also our guides to great stories based on land records and resources to help report such stories.What’s more, property records are often incomplete or inaccurate. “Fewer than half of the world’s countries (and just 13 percent in Africa) have registered or mapped the private land in their capital city, let alone beyond its borders, and public land is often not registered at all,” summarized World Bank land expert Klaus Deininger in a 2018 blog post.
The Global Investigative Journalism Network is pleased to announce that it is now offering its members an exclusive arrangement with leading global data and analytics company LexisNexis. GIJN members will now have access to one of the world’s largest electronic databases for legal and public records-related information, and for news and business information.