How I Got Published in The New Yorker and Univision News

In a single course at the J-School, Inti Pacheco, '17 M.S. Data, began collaborating on not one but two investigations that would later be published in major news outlets. The first, an in-depth look into President Trump's international business deals, was published in The New Yorker. The second, an investigation into the Trump Organization's controversial practices across the world, was published by Univision News. Here he tells how he and his classmates developed these stories, and how they came to be published with the help of Columbia Journalism School and a career-altering fellowship.

March 14, 2019

Both of these stories originated while you were getting your master's degree in data journalism. What made you pursue this particular degree at the J-School?

In 2015, while working as a reporter, I had the chance to work on an investigative project that required a lot of digging and research and I realized there was still a lot more for me to learn about doing a deep dive into unfamiliar territory to uncover what companies or governments don’t want you to know. I wanted to get better at doing that. I saw the school had a data specialization and I knew I would learn new skills that would vastly improve my reporting.

Where did the idea for these stories come from?

Both projects originated in a class called Using Data to Investigate Across Borders.

In the case of the New Yorker story, we looked at a list of companies that were published on President Trump’s financial disclosures. Among those, we found a project in the country of Georgia that raised a lot of unanswered questions.

As we looked into the history of this business group and its corporate structure, we found the ties it had to a Kazakh businessman accused of committing one of the biggest bank frauds in history. Piercing the corporate veil and following the money is not as easy as it sounds, but as we did our reporting we were able to find the connection between the origin of the funds and the President of the United States.

After looking at many of President Trump's international real estate deals, we kept seeing the same patterns: dubious partnerships and constant failure.

We looked at all the research we had and created our own database to look at patterns. We had done reporting on almost every single international deal and came to find a pattern of carelessness in the choice of partners and no sense of responsibility to see any of the projects through. To ensure we had done complete due diligence, we had to get documents from sources all over the world, and we were able to do so through different partnerships with media organizations in other countries.

Work on this story continued into the Cross-Borders Data Fellowship you began after graduation. Can you tell us more?

Four of us were selected to work as a team on global investigations for six months after graduation. Our joint effort was crucial to getting the best stories possible, along with the support and leadership of our supervisor, Giannina Segnini. There are very few opportunities like this in the job market where you can work on a six-month investigation right after you get your degree.

In addition to the fellowship, what other J-School resources helped you?

One of the school's biggest resources is the massive amounts of information that is available through the different databases available to students. We were able to get copies of lawsuits, business records, information on potential sources and also access to international media and their archives which helped us get a context of the characters and situations that we were exploring. I’m talking about databases like Nexis, Orbis, Bloomberg Law (and the terminal itself) and Factiva, which are all amazing resources provided by the school that I wish I could have now.

All of that I learned from school, from how to look for a business registry from a foreign country to how to use tools for visualizing the data.

What skills from your coursework were you able to apply as you worked on the stories?

As part of the data specialization, I learned how to collect and analyze data from the web. But my biggest takeaways were how to find data points that could lead me to a story and how data should be structured if you are the one collecting it.

At one point, we were downloading documents from the Georgian business registry to understand the corporate structure and do a network analysis. All of that I learned from school, from how to look for a business registry from a foreign country to how to use tools for visualizing the data.

How did you get the stories in front of Univision and The New Yorker?

Our professor, Giannina Segnini, made the introduction between our team and the partners we had for publishing our stories. Adam Davidson from the New Yorker came to our class and several months later we asked him if he would be interested in looking further at the Georgian project.

I ended up taking a fellowship at Univision, and my editor there was incredibly receptive when Professor Seginini suggested publishing our entire project with them.

Do you have any advice for journalists hoping to publish stories in venues like these?

If you find an opening to pitch a story, take it. Meet with a professor first to see what they think of the story and see if it’s worth a shot. There’s no magic way of making this happen, it just has to be a good story that someone will want for their publication.

Make sure this is something that hasn’t been reported, or not from the angle that you’re looking at it. Someone with experience, like a professor, will be able to tell you if it’s good or not. Maybe they’ll be able to connect you with the right person who’ll want your story.

What impact has the story's publication had for you?

Honestly, I think these stories are the reason why I now work at The Wall Street Journal. When I was doing interviews a couple of months ago, recruiters seemed to like that I had been able to get my name on different publications right after school. And this is something I wouldn’t have been able to do without my degree and everything I learned in class.

About the M.S. Data Journalism program

Students in the M.S. Data Journalism program are equipped with the skills to collect, analyze and report on data from jurisdictions across the world. Learn more about the degree and scholarship opportunities.