Ever since I’ve been in Slovakia, I’ve always spent election night at some party’s election headquarters. In 1998 it was the SDK, in 2002 the SDKÚ, in 2006 Smer and in 2010 SaS. But last Saturday, for the first time, I spent the evening at home with the kids, without even a TV cable feed (some might say the inevitable result of choosing DIGI TV as my cable provider). My son was ‘building’ something on the Internet that required frequent and intrusive Skype calls. My daughter was watching a Barbie DVD, which I had taught her was titled ‘Crap’. “Daddy, I want to watch Crap,” she asked, eliciting perhaps the only smile Barbie will ever bring to my lips.
Something else was different about these elections. Until this weekend, I had always covered them as a journalist working for a newspaper. Now, for the first time in 15 years, I was on my own. But with a catch - I had about 18,000 euros sitting in my bank account, sent over the previous 10 days by hundreds of generous people who had responded to a call for donations by the Aliancia Fair Play NGO.
As a journalist, I've always seen elections as momentous events. There's a new government to write about, dozens of new contacts to be made, an entire new environment to learn. This time around, however, there was also a new job description to think up - one to fit independent, investigative journalism that would be based on an entirely new financing model.
At the end of February, when Aliancia's Zuzana Wienk first proposed the idea of a collection for me, our idea was that the money raised would allow me to keep reporting the Gorila story. Without it, I would soon be forced to leave regular journalism to take on more teaching hours, editing, freelance writing or corporate research. But neither of us imagined the response would be so quick and so overwhelming. So, after giving it some thought, here is what I propose to do with the money:
1. Write a regular blog about Gorila - the investigation, the players involved, new developments or interesting aspects of the file.
2. Write frequently on other issues that are at least topically related to Gorila, such as high-level political corruption or secret service appointments.
3. Compile a database of links between parliamentary parties and political nominees to state posts on the one hand, and financial groups and political sponsors on the other. This database would be freely available to the public, with a view to giving voters a clearer picture of who is ‘behind' Slovakia's political parties.
4. Found a civic association (o.z.) and design a web page; the o.z. would provide a formal framework for the donations that are accumulating in my private bank account, while the web page would host the database, articles and documents.
5. Establish a regular newsletter for donors that would provide quarterly financial statements, audited under the auspices of Aliancia Fair Play, as well as information on the o.z. and on lawsuits and publication issues related to the banned Gorila book.
Let me assure you: I don't see this money as a stop-gap between jobs, or as a once-in-a-lifetime windfall to finance my own journalistic idiosyncrasies. I see it as a chance to embark on a new kind of journalism - one beyond the influence of editors, publishers, or advertisers. A brand of journalism in which you, the reader, are the only arbiter of whether it is worth reading and funding. One that takes more risks than the mainstream media, but that also respects the principles of fairness and accuracy that underlie all good journalism.
For this project to work, however, I need you to participate in it. Above all, I need your feedback - not just your views on the aims I have outlined above, but on what stories you think are worth telling. Day by day, the mainstream media determine what news we read or see, and what we don't. This, too, is the lesson of the Gorila file - how many other important stories never get told, just because an editor decides that it's too dangerous, that it doesn't mesh with their political sympathies, or that it doesn't fit their definition of news? So, here is what I'm asking you to do:
1. Send me story suggestions, documents, pictures - anything you think is worth investigating in depth. You can do so anonymously, or arrange a meeting by writing me at firstname.lastname@example.org ; your identity will be strictly protected.
2. Let me know what you think of the stories I write, and send me any questions you have about them.
3. Put me in touch with friends or acquaintances you think may have a story to tell. People often just need a gentle push, and only then find that they really want to talk.
Don't get me wrong: I don't claim to be a better or more conscientious journalist than my peers who work for Sme, Trend, or Týždeň. I know many of them, and have a high opinion of their work. But circumstances have put me in a unique position to continue reporting on Gorilla and other high-level corruption stories: I have your trust and support, as well as a specific set of contacts accumulated through years on the job. With Slovakia's mainstream media eliminating investigative reporting positions and rarely giving journalists more than a day to spend on stories, I believe that between us, we can come up with important stories that wouldn't otherwise get told.
I intend to publish a blog every Sunday afternoon. On March 18, please come back to this page to read about the Gorilla investigation to date, and what the new Fico government inherits from its predecessor.
Looking forward to the coming months!