Panama Papers

Grad Chivers wins second Pulitzer; ICIJ wins for Panama Papers project that involved Columbia faculty, students

The Journalism School won high praise from this year's Pulitzer Prizes, with J '95 graduate C.J. Chivers of The New York Times winning for Feature Writing, while the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists winning in Explanatory Reporting for the Panama Papers project that involved data professor Giannina Segnini and her students.

It was Chiver's second Pulitzer; in 2009 he was part of the team that won the International Reporting prize. His winning work The Fighter is the story of Sam Siatta, a Marine who struggled to adapt to civilian life and inhibited non stereotypical PTSD behavior. And '80 graduate John Donvan was a Pulitzer finalist in the General Nonfiction category along with co-author Caren Zucker. Their book In a Different Key, "is a passionate work of advocacy that traces public perceptions about autism from chillingly cruel beginnings to a kinder but still troubling present."

The Columbia Journalism School was the only academic institution in the world to have participated in the Panama Papers investigation and it was ICIJ's only academic partner. The Journalism school team of five Data Specialization students, led by Professor Giannina Segnini and assisted by recent dual degree graduate Aram Chung (CJS '14), helped the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) on shipping and trade-related investigations for The Panama Papers

From late 2015 to spring 2016, the students collaborated with more than 400 ICIJ members worldwide on one of the biggest investigations the world had ever witnessed.  Students Maria Emma Paoli and Jianghanhan Li went further, using their investigations on organized crime operations and sanctions violations as part of their master’s projects. Others included Masako Melissa Hirsch, who was responsible for coordinating the reporting process, and Bernat Ivancsics, Nikita Takkar, Jiayan Xie, Qinling Li.

"I’m very proud of the students’ work who had a unique opportunity to be part of this historic journalistic collaboration," said Segnini. "Our students used the tools and techniques that we teach about verification, fact-checking, and news judgment to contribute to a worldwide, ground-breaking investigation that held politicians and powerful individuals accountable. We’re grateful to have worked with ICIJ, and the many international organizations around the world that contributed to the impact.”

The team scraped and combined more than 16 databases related to trade and shipping. They cross-referenced the information from these databases with names and companies listed in the Panama Papers. Their research and reporting helped uncover stories related to individuals and assets located in Iceland, Russia, Finland, Iran and Turkey.

This experience taught students how to mine information from big data. They learned how to use the programming language Python to scrape websites and Neo4J to map social networks. They used Tableau and R to visualize information.

Professor Segnini is currently the Director of Data Specialization within the Master of Science Program and began as a visiting professor at Columbia Journalism School.  Before joining the Journalism school she headed a team of journalists and computer engineers at La Nacion, Costa Rica’s newspaper.  Segnini has been an ICIJ active member since 2007 and member of its board of advisers since 2015. Segnini is also a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) ,Global Editors Network (GEN), Instituto de Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS) and the Gabriel García Márquez Foundation.
 

For the full list of 2017 Pulitzer Prize Winners visit: http://www.pulitzer.org/news/video-2017-pulitzer-prize-announcement.