The Case for Media Impact: A Case Study of ICIJ's Radical Collaboration Strategy

Pitt, Fergus; Green-Barber, Lindsay

The media—and especially nonprofit media—has spent the past few years struggling to measure the impact of its work. Some outlets are compelled to do so by counting their philanthropic supporters; others see their impact as foundational to audience development and engagement, and still others are beginning to experiment with the role of impact measurement in advertising and other revenue streams. Of course, at its core, journalism is intended to have an effect: to inform the public so we can be civically engaged and hold the powerful to account.

But what does it mean for a journalistic organization to put the goal of impact at the center of its mission? In this report, we explore this question through the lens of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and its explosive project, “Evicted and Abandoned,” in which a collaborative reporting project of more than fifty reporters and fifteen organizations in twenty-one countries took on the World Bank. The investigation found that, over the last decade, projects funded by the World Bank have physically or economically displaced an estimated 3.4 million people; that the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation have financed governments and companies accused of human rights violations; and that, from 2009 to 2013, World Bank Group lenders invested fifty billion dollars into projects graded with the highest risk for “irreversible or unprecedented” social or environmental impacts.

Part One of the report introduces the current impact conversation in the media arena and describes ICIJ’s structure and strategy. Part Two traces the forerunners to some contemporary journalists’ discomfort with the notion of impact as a goal for media, and finds that, in fact, the notion of journalistic impact is nothing new. In Part Three, we examine how ICIJ’s impact imperative affects the organization’s approach to story choice, production, and distribution. The report also covers the challenges associated with this model and suggests what other journalistic organizations can learn from the experience of ICIJ.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Tow Center for Digital Journalism
Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia University
Tow Center for Digital Journalism Publications
Published Here
June 7, 2017