This summer, OpenCorporates announced the creation of the OpenCorporates Trust, the entity that guarantees OpenCorporates’ mission, and ensures we always operate to open up company data for the public good.
Coming up second in a series of interviews with our trustees is Giannina Segnini, one of the best known names in data journalism. Giannina is Director of the Master of Science Data Journalism Program at the Journalism School at Columbia University, New York.
Until February 2014, Segnini headed a team of journalists and computer engineers at La Nacion, Costa Rica’s newspaper. Her team processed the data and developed the interactive application for the OffshoreLeaks project, published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in 2013. Segnini also actively participates in ICIJ’s Panama Papers project.
Hello, tell us a little about who you are, and why you support OpenCorporates?
I’m an investigative reporter who’s obsessed with transparency – OpenCorporates is a perfect fit for all the values I try to live by. The best way to bring transparency to the modern world is precisely by having access to the information on thousands of companies and legal entities – including those that are responsible for corruption, organised crime and many other bad things in this world. The OpenCorporates mission is completely aligned with the best practices to bring more transparency and accountability.
What drew you to becoming an OpenCorporates trustee?
No one needs extra work in this busy life we all have. But when I heard OpenCorporates’ vision, and the idea of maintaining principles of openness and transparency no matter what, I was completely tempted by the vision.
Primarily, it’s about the quality of the trustees mission – maintaining OpenCorporates public value regardless of any external circumstances. The team is also diverse and experienced, and from many different backgrounds, which in itself was a really compelling factor.
How does your work at Columbia inform this role?
Investigative journalists are one of the most frequent users of OpenCorporates, and OpenCorporates has become a crucial for tool for us. I’ve been training investigative journalists for the last 20 years or so, and from my perspective – not just as a user, but also as a trainer – it’s about understanding the community of users, and what they need to thrive.
What does a future without OpenCorporates look like?
It would be terrible – and that’s how we were before OpenCorporates. For journalists, and for many investigators, we had to beg corporations to give us access to datasets we cannot afford. Of course, many people can’t afford the high level of subscription fees. OpenCorporates is really changing how we investigate – instead of going to multiple sources, going to one platform.
Without OpenCorporates, only the elite would be able to have access to this information – and most of the time, the elites who have access to this data are the ones who needs to be investigated. From my point of view, OpenCorporates is changing the landscape and bringing transparency. Having all these connections across the world in one single place allows you to connect the dots in a much greater way.
How do we ensure access to company data is open to all?
By building a strong institution that’s defended against attacks or those who don’t like transparency. I think the new corporate structure will ensure OpenCorporates will be a solid and protected organisation with its mission. Technology will also help this – for example I would love to have a graph database to explore relationship between people and companies.