From UWC to Investigative Journalism


by Jeppe Damberg, UWCM
February 28th, 2018


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A few weeks ago, UWCUSA Alumni Šarūnas Černiauskas received an official state award by the Lithuanian President for promoting investigative journalism and fighting corruption in Lithuania. A little background research will tell you that one of Šarūnas’ stories, a cross-border investigation into misuse of EU funds by members of the European Parliament was shortlisted for the European Press Prize in 2017. Also, that Černiauskas has received several awards and recently became the first laureate of the Investigative Journalism Prize established by the Vilnius University; a prize awarded for reviving investigative journalism in Lithuania. From Panama Papers to a story about tax evasion by a business partly owned by U2 singer Bono, Šarūnas’ life certainly is full of intensity. We at the Flying Dutchman reached out to hear more about his life as an investigative journalist.
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Did UWC lead you to pursue a journalism career?
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I dreamt of becoming a journalist even before UWC, from age 12, I think. But at UWC, I got the opportunity to meet famous journalists and broaden my knowledge in various areas. Quite ironically however, I gave up the dream of becoming a journalist right after graduating. It took me three more years to realize that this was what I was going to be doing from now on.
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When I did get back on track, however, I realized that UWC was, in a sense, the key factor that pushed me towards investigative reporting. Back in 2011, I met people from OCCRP (
The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project), who were some of the best journalists in the world. OCCRP is an international network of brilliant reporters, based on the highest values and pursuing the highest standards of journalism. Once I saw these people, I knew I wanted to pursue a similar mission. And that was, first and foremost, because the organization echoes the UWC spirit and represents the values I endorsed back in UWC USA.
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What did the OCCRP provide you as an investigative journalist?
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I became an official member of the OCCRP in 2015 and with it came many new opportunities. Firstly, they brought me on the Pulitzer-winning Panama Papers team. Later, in 2017, I also became a member at ICIJ (International Consortium of Investigative Journalists), which is the organization that made the Panama Papers possible.
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Additionally, I worked on the Russian Laundromat which was, probably, the biggest OCCRP project I worked on so far. Also, OCCRP people were among the main reporters who dug into Sergei Roldugin in the Panama Papers. I happened to contribute a bit to the Roldugin story regarding shady transfers involving a Lithuanian Bank.
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Becoming a part of OCCRP was really a dream come true, and the work we’re doing across borders really brings back memories of UWC, when we were all just teenagers with a dream to change to the world in one way or another. Now, I feel I’m doing my part of that dream.
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What has been your most interesting story so far?
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I think, perhaps, my most interesting and somewhat glamorous story was when, in the Paradise Papers, there was a lead on Bono from the U2 owning a shopping mall in my country. I took the story and it turned out to be a story of tax evasion. As a consequence of the story, Bono announced he’s pulling out of the Lithuanian business, so in a way, I made my country famous for his investment and got rid of the famous investor.

 

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Šarūnas received an award for promoting investigative journalism in Lithuania few weeks ago by Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė

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It’s fresh. Investigative reporting was pretty much dead in my country till we gave it a shot back in 2015. Now, we’re trying to come up with something like the Lithuanian ‘school’ of investigative reporting, working with students and showing that big things are possible if you have the know-how.
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How do you think you give back to UWC?
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In UWC, we all wanted to change the world and make it a better place. I’m trying to do the best I can. However, one thing is very different now, if we compare it to the way it was back in 2003. Then, and in the following years, we took the truth for granted. At least in the democratic countries. Now, it’s no longer that way. Fake news and assaults on honest and accurate reporting are the biggest issues modern media face worldwide. So it’s no longer about saying the truth – it’s about keeping it alive in face of fake news, false accusations and even physical threats.
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Any last comments?
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Fun fact. In both international organizations I work with, there’s people from UWC. At OCCRP, there’s this brilliant person from the Adriatic college named Ceci Jan. And when we were doing the Paradise Papers with ICIJ, there was Michael Janda, my Australian second-year friend from UWC USA.
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We at the Flying Dutchman thank Šarūnas Černiauskas for giving us time to interview him and for his fascinating story.

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