The crucial need for investigative journalism in Puerto Rico

Representatives from the Center for Investigative Journalism at a session in EIJ 2019.

July 13, 2019. The day a small group of journalists changed Puerto Rico’s history.

The Center for Investigative Journalism, based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, had been investigating corruption and fraud as well as the administration of Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló since the start of his term in January of 2017. 

As part of the organization’s investigation, it worked with a source who was close to Governor Rosselló. The Center tracked 10 pages of chats from the source but immediately urged the source to release all of the chat messages.

At 2 a.m. on July 13, the non-profit organization released 889 pages of Telegram chats between Governor Rosselló and various members of his executive cabinet.

Within these chats were messages containing jokes about the deaths from Hurricane Maria, jokes about journalists in Puerto Rico, sexist comments about San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz and homophobic comments about singer Ricky Martin.

Once the Center published its article, numerous media outlets immediately republished the story in addition to the widespread shares on social media around the world. The Center did not expect its work to receive as much attention as it did. 

“Our team was overwhelmed by the reaction,” said Carla Minet, the Center for Investigative Journalism’s Executive Director. 

“We were shocked about how strong the response had been, but we were also optimistic that this was the right thing to do for social change to happen.”

Protestors in Puerto Rico demand the resignation of Governor Rosselló.

For nearly two weeks, protests were held around the island. Puerto Rican celebrities such as Ricky Martin, Bad Bunny, and Residente all joined the cause. Puerto Ricans in the diaspora protested in U.S. cities like New York, Atlanta, Washington D.C. and Chicago. 

The protesters all sought one thing: the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló.

Journalists on assignment in Puerto Rico and around the United States documented the historic protests. Widespread coverage, at some times where there were 24-hour broadcasts of the protests, created a ripple effect around the world. 

On July 24, the people of Puerto Rico heard what most were hoping for. “Today I announce that I will resign from the position of governor effective Friday, August 2, 2019, at 5 p.m.”

“You couldn’t have said that our publication of the chats was going to play out in a way where we were going to have the first Puerto Rican governor actually resigning in the island’s constitutional history,” said Oscar J. Serrano, the co-founder of the Center for Investigative Journalism.

Members of the Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico.

The widespread coverage led to organic crowdfunding which boosted the organization’s funding for the future. The Center vows to continue to investigate corruption within Puerto Rico’s government.

“We keep investigating corruption. That is what we were doing before the chats, and that is what we will keep doing,” Minet said.

The Center for Investigative Journalism is a non-profit organization founded in 2007 to better inform the public in Puerto Rico.