Liquid Investigations: Helping journalists collaborate safely at scale


Stefan Candea wanted to create journalism that exposes wrongs in society: “I could see very fast how stories hit a wall and not be published”

With increased global connectivity, it also became easier for corruption and criminal elements to undermine investigations by simply moving operations across borders, particularly in Europe. This meant that journalists struggled to connect the dots and break the stories that mattered.

“We needed to collaborate with others outside the country, journalists that were independent of the owners of infrastructure,” says Stefan. “But we lacked the tools to do it.”

Journalists needed a new system to make it easier for them to work together, one which would enable them to search, analyse, annotate and share information in secure, integrated environments.

With Liquid Investigations, Stefan created tools that journalists working across the world can use to collaborate securely and effectively. Liquid is a free, open-source software that’s useable on cheap hardware and puts together secure apps, search tools, chat systems and a synchronisation file system.

With help from the Google DNI Fund, the software was developed to run across a range of servers with a special focus on small and portable devices.

“We compressed the software so that it fits on a micro computer,” explains Andrea Bonea, a member of the Liquid team. “It’s perfect for groups that want to collaborate in a safe, secure manner.”

The kit allows for distributed, non-hierarchical data analysis, as well as sharing, information exchange and annotation. It gives network members distributed and granular control over data management.

“Journalists can pick up the bundle and have the necessary technology to start a network. The DNI Fund made it possible to develop all of that into a small mini computer, and make this bundle available outside of a centralised environment.”

If I look at the future I see a huge value in democratising collaboration to put control in the hands of the journalist and not the owners of infrastructure

Stefan Candea
Founder at Liquid Investigations

Liquid is the complete bridge between journalists. It puts everybody at an equal level.

Stefan Candea
Founder at Liquid Investigations

The Liquid Investigations project gained further support from the Google DNI Fund to work together with theCRJI (Romanian Centre for Investigative Journalism). It brought coders and journalists together, making investigative collaborations less burdensome and more secure.

One of the first wide-scale stories that Liquid Investigations worked on using the collaborative software was cross-border reporting into football corruption. 120 journalists used the search tool to investigate and collaborate on the story.

Stefan says that the tools made the project possible: “The alternative would have been buying a licence for a very expensive tool that would not have been affordable to serve so many people in so many different places. Without this Liquid search tool, there wouldn’t have been any investigation.”

The Liquid Investigations prototype is already being implemented by journalists across Europe to break more stories like the football scandal.

Stefan is optimistic that the software will continue to make it easier to share information that matters: “If I look at the future, I see a huge value in democratising collaboration to put control in the hands of the journalists.”

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