2016 Knight International Awardee Miranda Patrucić on the importance of collaboration in investigative reporting
Miranda Patrucić at her desk. Photo by Asha Siad.
Asha Siad is a Somali-Canadian multimedia journalist and documentary filmmaker who has reported for CBC News, the Calgary Journal, Shaw TV and Frontiere News. Asha is also 2015 ivoh summit attendee. You can follow her on Twitter at @AshaReports .
Miranda Patrucić never thought she would become a journalist, let alone an investigative one. The 35-year-old Bosnian native, who was recently awarded this year’s prestigious Knight International Award, began her radio and television career in her adolescent years. But it was not until she discovered the Centre for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo that she decided to become an investigative journalist.
“I just fell in love with this idea because I thought the Balkan media really needs an independent organization which is going to report without the influence of politics or crime,” Patrucić said.
She applied for a job as an assistant to the editor and quickly moved up from contributing small pieces in investigations to subsequently leading them. Her editor went on to create the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). She joined as a lead reporter and today is a regional editor with a focus on Central Asia.
“I am in charge of establishing and bring investigative reporting to whole new region of the world,” Patrucić told ivoh from her office in Sarajevo.
Patrucić, who studied economics, always thought that by the time she was 30 she would be working in a bank. Journalism was never in her career plan. But today, after 11 years in the field, the investigative journalist says she feels like she was born to do this job.
“I think it’s the most amazing job in the world because you are able to investigate something that other people are doing their best to keep hidden,” Patrucić said.
Most of the work Patrucić produces is in countries where there is little to no press freedom.
“Where people are not empowered, where people are abused by their governments, they are thrown into jail, their journalists are thrown into jail … there’s police strictly monitoring what is being reported on, and people are left without information they need to make decisions,” Patrucić said. “The scale of corruption is something I’ve never seen in my life. I think it’s a real privilege to be in my position to be able to report about these cases and actually do some good.”
Dozens of postcards from around the globe decorate the beige walls in her office. Patrucić begins rattling off the names of the cities and countries she’s traveled to. This year alone, she’s had almost 100 flights.
“I have been training journalists for years now and going to all different parts of the world,” Patrucić said. “Being able to share some of my skills with reporters from the Middle East or Asia or Latin America, where they can continue and build on the work that I have done and the skills that I have shared, I think that it’s incredibly important.”
Patrucić believes in supporting other reporters because the community has room to grow.
“The truth of today is that crime and corruption easily cross borders. The corrupt politicians from my country will move their money to Austria, to Luxembourg, to any other tax haven. The time it takes for law enforcements to cover that is years,” Patrucić said. “As a journalist, I can easily either ask my colleague in Austria to help out or I can do the reporting myself without every leaving my home. All I need is Internet and a computer.”
She says uncovering massive corruption has become much easier than it was ever before. But with a changing media landscape, there is a new challenge that has impacted the field of investigative journalism: the reality that some news organizations have had to let go of investigative reporters as cost-cutting measures in recent years.
Patrucić, who was a lead reporter on a global investigation about the Panama Papers, points to the project’s success as an indicator for the need of investigative journalism.
“It’s not about leaks, it’s not about false breaking news; it’s about doing in-depth reporting on a subject that matters to the people,” Patrucić said. She added that collaboration among investigative journalists and outlets has helped.
“In today’s world, journalists cannot act on their own; you’re not self-sufficient. I think the Panama Papers really showed what the community of journalists can do,” Patrucić said. Another collaborative project Patrucić was recently involved in was the OCCRP’s Khadija Project. Just before the arrest of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist Khadija Ismayilova in December of 2014, Ismayilova asked her colleagues to continue her reporting. Patrucić and a dozen other journalists, all from different media outlets, made that promise and reported on the stories Ismayilova would have reported on had she not been in prison.
“I probably would [have] never done a single story on Azerbaijan if it wasn’t for Khadija. Our activism made it a priority to report about Azerbaijan and focus all our attention on Azerbaijan,” Patrucić said. “And of course we spent a lot of time talking to people, telling them about Khadija, [about how] we must fight for press freedom and fight for journalists.”
On one occasion Patrucić says Ismayilova smuggled her and the Executive Director of the OCCRP a message that said: “thank you guys, with all the evil in the world you are my light in prison.”
On May 25 of this year, Ismayilova was released from prison. Patrucić recalls their first phone call.
“I was crying, I was really crying, I couldn’t believe that this was actually happening,” Patrucić said. “I called her and she was like ‘congratulations on the award,’ and she knew everything and she was so happy to be out.”
When Patrucić recently found out that she received the 2016 Knight International Award she was overjoyed.
“I think it’s so strange to to be 35 years old and to receive something that is, you know, a life achievement award. At some point I got really scared because my life so far and my work so far has earned me this award [and now] I have a huge challenge ahead because I just have to be better,” Patrucić said. “It’s an amazing honor but it’s also a true commitment to continue working and doing even more in the future.”
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