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Career Compass

Interview with 2016 Pulitzer Prize recipient for Panama Papers, Scilla Alecci ’11

“School is just like a box. Make full use of the things and content you choose to put inside.”

Scilla Alecci. Journalist and Video Journalist of International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). Graduate of J-School at Graduate School of Political Science, Waseda University.


Members of the Construction Workers Union demonstrate outside Mossack Fonseca headquarters at Panama city on April 13, 2016. Police on Tuesday raided the headquarters of the Panamanian law firm whose leaked Panama Papers revealed how the world's wealthy and powerful used offshore companies to stash assets. / AFP PHOTO / Ed Grimaldo

The Panama Papers shook the world and became world news in 2016. These massive leaks exposed by Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca & Co. that accounted for more than 11.5 million financial and legal records revealed the tax heavens which organizations and the wealthy population around the world exploit to avoid taxes.

The organization behind the investigation was International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). Among the four member team in-charged of Japan, one of them was Sciila Alecci, who completed her graduate studies at the J-School (Journalism School) of Waseda University.

Waseda Weekly, an online magazine of Waseda University, interviewed Alecci to discuss her view on and ideals of the media and journalism.

Delivering the real Japan to the world

“In Italy, Japanese animation such as Captain Tsubasa, First of the North Star and Yatterman are very popular. A lot of people born in the 1970s and 1980s grew up watching Japanese animation.”

“The sounds and pronunciation of Japanese words are really fascinating. The written language also has a complex structure, which consists of three alphabets namely Kanji (Chinese characters), Hiragana and Katakana. When I was doing my major in Japanese Linguistics at La Sapienza University in Rome, I used to think about becoming a university professor of Japanese linguistics.”

These are the words of Alecci, who is born in Rome, Italy. By the time she realized it, she had long been fascinated by Japanese language and culture. As such, after graduating from La Sapienza University, she went to study Japanese at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies on a scholarship program. However, after coming to Japan, she started having doubts on the Italian media.

“After coming to Japan, I realized that the news and information provided by the media of Italy are biased in various aspects. Japan portrayed by the Italian media seems to revolve mainly around sushi and geisha. After realizing the differences and mismatches of my expectations and reality, I started being more interested in the “real Japan” than the “Japan learned in schools.” In order to deepen my knowledge and understanding of Japan, as well as to accurately deliver and disseminate information about Japan closer to reality, I made up mind to become a journalist. As such, I decided to enroll myself in the J-School of Waseda University.”

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When Alecci was at J-School, she decided to write her graduate studies thesis on Keizai Yakuza (literally means economic Yakuza) after studying about the differences in how the media portrays Yakuza in Japan and Mafia in Italy under Professor Etsushi Tanifuji. The book which she remembers having the most impact on her and her view on journalism was Yakuza: Japan’s Criminal Underworld published by the University of California Press.

At J-School, Alecci also participated in the student exchange program at the University of Missouri in the United States, and joined the international investigate journalism at ICIJ. The article that Alecci was in-charged in was also reported in the Japanese news and it earned her the IRE medal awarded to the best work by the Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE).

The person who decides what you learn and acquire at school is none other than yourself

Protesters demonstrate against British Prime Minister David Cameron outside the Conservative Party’s Spring Forum in central London following revelations in the Panama papers in central London on April 9, 2016. British Prime Minister David Cameron said today he had mishandled the controversy over his shares in his father's offshore business interests, which were exposed by the "Panama Papers" revelations. / AFP PHOTO / NIKLAS HALLE'N

After graduating from the graduate school at Waseda, Alecci went on to do her master in Investigative Journalism & Documentary Film-making at Columbia University in the City of New York in 2015. It was in June of the same year when she started getting involved in the Panama Papers project.

“I felt really honored to be invited to take part in the project. It was not an easy task. There were many documents and the theme was complicated. However, thanks to the Japanese team, I was able to lay my hands on interesting and profound materials. Most importantly, I feel that I have learned and grown a lot as journalist,” said Alecci.

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The Panama Papers have so much impact on the political world across the globe that even the prime minister of Iceland resigned as a result of it. The project made Alecci realized the important role of a journalist. In addition, she added that “On a regular basis, I often thought about how my article would be received by the audience. However, I had never thought about the impact my work could have on the world. The Panama Papers project gave me the opportunity to think about and reflect on the responsibilities of a journalist, as well as the impact and true meaning of journalism.”

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“I really respect the courage journalists who come from countries with lesser press freedom have. Thanks to the Panama Papers project, we are seeing more and more collaboration among media and journalists from different countries. I believe that in future, if journalists want to bring up global issues, they will see more of such collaboration and cooperation in future,” emphasized Alecci. She also mentioned that she would continue spreading the real meaning of journalism while she continued to work as a journalist.

At the end of the interview, Alecci left the following message especially for Waseda University students.

“School is just like an empty box. You, as individuals, are the only person who can decide what content to put into this box. The content that you chose to fill up your box will stay with you no matter where you go in future. As such, you should try out and explore different things, talk to people from backgrounds different from yours, step out of your comfort zone and try living in an environment different from where you are currently living in to entrench your identity. Don’t be afraid to fail because it is okay to fail when you are still a student. Most importantly, you should learn from the mistakes and failures you experienced as you explore the world.”

Profile

Scilla Alecci

Alecci was born and grew up in Roma, Italy. Majoring in Japanese Linguistics, she graduated from La Sapienza University in 2007. After studying at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, she enrolled herself the Journalism School (J-School) of Graduate School of Political Science at Wasede University in 2009 and graduated in 2011. She is currently working both as a journalist and video journalist at International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

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