Kevin Hall, a journalist who reported on the Panama Papers, waited anxiously in a classroom at Colorado State University on Monday waiting for the news. And, at 1 p.m., the news broke: He won a Pulitzer Prize.
Hall held back tears as he was greeted with a round of applause from the small classroom of students that he had come to talk to, and cheers from his journalism team on Facetime. He was in Fort Collins this week to visit his aunt and cousins.
“When you start your career you hope for one thing. You hope you have that one story that makes a difference,” Hall said.
The award was for his multi-year commitment to the Panama Papers in which he and his team published articles exposing companies who used fake off-shore establishments to hide illegal financial activity.
Hall said the team analyzed 11.5 million documents that amassed to be 2.7 terabytes of leaked financial data. This was a task that Hall said would be impossible for one person.
“If you spent a minute on every document in there, you would need two full lifetimes of 80 years,” Hall said.
The organization of this data was a large part of what made the team successful, Hall said. Computer programmers organized the mass amounts of data and secured the files during the times they were hacked.
“Take away the writing and reporting part of it, just the organization of that kind of data is massive. And that is a key part of the story that I don’t think was ever really told.” Hall said.
The Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting was given to the Panama Papers for work that utilized a team of over 300 reporters on six continents to explore off-shore tax havens.
Hall said a team of this size is significant because it required a great deal of trust between bureaus to keep the story secret until it was complete.
“There really hasn’t been anything like this where so many people around the world worked together without trying to get the scoop, but to get the story,” Hall said.
Before becoming a journalist, Hall said he travelled the world with a guitar and was about to become a “professional bum” when he decided he wanted to be paid to travel the world. He got his start working late night radio shifts that eventually led him to work for United Press International.
Through UPI, Hall achieved his goal of working in various countries, often during conflicting times. Hall’s work with the Panama Papers, however, was not always glamorous. Hall said he believes there are a lot of people that are smarter than him, but few that will work harder than he does.
“We spent months and months, 14 hours a day, looking at really boring financial documents trying to understand who these people were,” Hall said. “People don’t say, ‘Bad Guy Inc.,’ it’s not that obvious.”
Now with a Pulitzer Prize to show for it, Hall and his team can be gratified by the work they have done. For Hall, this story was about unveiling the corruption that the public was unaware of.
“You hope that there is some force out there that pushes you and gives you a tail-wind in documenting injustice,” Hall said. “You don’t go into journalism to make money, you go into journalism to spotlight injustice.”
Collegian news reporter Ty Betts can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @TyBetts9.