Correctiv “We want our Investigations to Change Things”

Daniel Drepper
Daniel Drepper | © Correct!v

Since 2014, Correctiv has been the first non-profit investigative newsroom in Germany. In this interview, senior reporter Daniel Drepper explains why journalism in Germany should be recognized as a non-profit activity and what contribution Correctiv wants to make to society.

Mr Drepper, Correctiv wants to carry on investigative research for the benefit of society. Other investigative research teams do this too. What then exactly is non-profit about Correctiv?

We’re non-profit according to the law because we don’t only do investigative journalism but also make our research transparent and teach people how they can conduct investigative research themselves. A foundation made our start possible; in the long-term Correctiv is financed by donations and membership fees. They’re tax deductible. We publish our investigative protocols and organize training not only for journalists but also for quite normal citizens. In addition, we’re not allowed to make a profit, so every euro goes into our investigations. We can focus completely on our work for society and make as much information as possible available to citizens.

Goal: to foster participation

Why is this important?

The more information there is and the more people that take part in public discussion, the better it is for democracy. That’s our approach. We thus fill the gap between the investigative teams of the big media companies and the local teams, which don’t perhaps always have the resources to build up stories. We can treat stories on a national level and at the same time give local media the opportunity to access data and investigative research for their own reports at the local level. To make this possible, unlike the established media, is part of our mission.

Those who join Correctiv get access to the community and so, for example, a view of the investigative protocols. How many members do you have now and how can they participate?

At present we’re moving in the area of three digits, more than one hundred but not yet 1,000. Naturally we want to increase this number, and with every story more people join. Participation includes the right of members to co-determine which projects and issues we’ll investigate. The most recently chosen issue was corruption and abuse of power. And in the long-term we want to get the community engaged more and more. We’re just now making changes that will enable members to pose questions directly, comment on running investigations and make suggestions.

Selection criterion: relevance for society

You’ve investigated hospital germs, but also less well-known topics such as “court donations”, in which judges and lawyers take in millions through discontinued criminal proceedings and dispose of it completely without checks. How do you choose what issues you will deal with?

There are several criteria: one of our goals is to make systematic problems visible with large volumes of data. In the case of the “court donations”, we could show with our database that it wasn’t a matter of individual cases but a systematic flaw. The second question we ask ourselves is how close the issue is to the people for whom we’re doing this. How relevant is it for society? Does the issue concern only a small group or is it a problem that really affects many people? And how great is the damage it causes?

You “give away” your investigative research – and have therefore been accused by freelance journalists of taking their work away. Why do you do this? So that as many people as possible will become aware of Corrective?

Yes, that’s also a reason. We want our investigations to change things and make a contribution to society. As a new, unknown start-up, we couldn’t achieve this if we didn’t publish the stories on our website. For this we need big media partners and we therefore cooperate with magazines such as Die Zeit and Der Spiegel. But we also organize readings and other events so as to stay in touch with our readers.

Financing should be set up as broadly as possible

Is use of the German language an obstacle for Correctiv? ProPublica and other successful investigative newsrooms work in English and thus reach a much larger audience.

Of course there’ll never be so many non-profit investigative newsrooms in Germany as in the United States. But I think there’s sufficient room in Germany for several such newsrooms. We also try to publish stories that could be interesting beyond the German-speaking world in other languages. For example, we published investigations on the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in English, Russian and French. That did a lot for us because more than fifty per cent of those who read the stories weren’t German-speakers. We have to decide in each individual case whether or not we’ll provide a translation.

In early 2014, the Brost Foundation gave Corrective three million euros. In six years the support comes to an end. After that, how do you want to finance your work?

Financing should be set up as broadly as possible so that the newsroom doesn’t collapse when even only a single pillar is removed. We hope of course that the Brost Foundation will continue to support us after the three years, but we’re also looking about for other large foundations. The second pillar is partners who support specific projects, and the third pillar is perfectly normal citizens who support us with small donations and become part of the community. If we find enough such people, we can continue working in any case, even if sometimes a major donor breaks away. This is the sort of basis we want to develop. It’s our goal.