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Original featured photo by Cloutier Benjamin on Unsplash

It is difficult for me to find the right words to adequately explain how much personal sacrifice this project took to pull together. So instead of using words, I’ll describe it using deeds.

The seedling of the idea that later became the data library was planted on 14 October, 2022. I was sitting in my car on an uncharacteristically cold, windy evening. I was waiting outside the venue for an event in which I was commissioned to take pictures, but my mind couldn’t have been further elsewhere than where I actually was.

At the time, I was out of options and clutching at straws to figure out how to survive. By then, I had already worked at the best newsrooms in the country: the Times of Malta and The Shift News. Neither of those two stints turned out to be what I hoped they would be.

In front of me lay two pathways: either permanently giving up on journalism because all the other options were far less interesting than what I had already done with the Times and with the Shift, or going down the untested, perilous road of freelancing.

Being the stubborn oaf that I am, I set out to prove myself in the wilderness. Come hell or high water, I’d make it as a journalist, whatever it takes to make it, I’ll do it.

Together with two brilliant journalists to whom I owe a great deal, I landed my first major investigation fund less than two months into my freelancing foray. It was a lifeline – not just financially, but also psychologically. Since that fateful day (2 December, 2022, to be precise), I haven’t looked back. I knew this path was worth taking, because someone else stopped to consider the value of my work and chose to support it.

Of course, landing enough funding to sustain one investigation isn’t enough to cover my expenses for a whole year, so I worked my ass off to juggle part-time jobs with my journalism work. I chased content freelancing gigs that went nowhere, got this close to securing deals with potential clients only to then get completely rebuffed due to circumstances which were beyond my control, and spent a long time wondering whether any of this madness was even worth it.

Meanwhile, I’ve been constantly at my laptop for hours every day scouring for stories, building up a launch base, and documenting a decade’s worth of corruption one data point at a time.

To do so, I’ve put myself in a situation where I barely made a living over the past year. I always tried to work enough part-time hours to make ends meet so I can maximise the remaining amount of time I have to focus on my journalism, and sometimes even then, I’d be short a few hundred by the end of the month. I’ve had to ask family members, friends, and even my partner to float me through when cash runs short.

I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by like-minded people who support my work and saw no issue with helping out, because they believe in this project just as much as I do. I am also someone who, thanks to my spotless track record as an activist and a journalist, inspires enough trust for people to rest assured that I am not some charlatan out to get their money. Naturally, it also helps that they could see me busting my gut everyday to bring this project to life.

I went through all of this with single-minded determination simply because I had a vision I fully believed in and wanted to bring to life at all costs, without any interference, without any strings attached to any private financiers, and without any commercial muscle squeezing every inch of advertising out of my work.

The only support this project has received has been purely from the grassroots of civil society – NGOs and foundations who profess the same objectives this project set out to achieve. I’ve also received support from fellow activists and colleagues who engage with my work, provide tangible leads to follow up on, and generally help with the slow and steady growth that this project has managed to achieve so far.

At practically every fork in the road that led me here, I chose the hard way because independence is priceless.

Not having enough money and needing to ask people in your community to support you in desperate moments is frowned upon greatly in Maltese society. It is perceived as a sign of weakness, a mark of failure. As I write this and think of the reaction to it when I publish it, I immediately think of my parents, who might cringe in shame at the thought of total strangers reading this website getting to know that their son barely ekes out a living on most days.

I share none of that sense of shame. In fact, I’d rather bet big on myself and the validity of a unique project that informs and inspires people enough to elicit a significant wave of interest, financial support, and engagement instead of working for someone else who either fails to understand what journalism should be or otherwise falls short of the mark in terms of leadership.

I’d rather toil away all day without any guarantee of a return on investment for the sake of quality journalism than do what everybody else does for the sake of a stable paycheck and a relatively easy turnaround (can you really compare an article that’s been laboured over with passion with something someone wrote up in five minutes based on a Facebook post?).

When discussing this project with veteran colleagues who’ve been journalists for decades, the reaction I got most often was something along the lines of ‘if I knew you’d listen, I’d tell you you’re insane and that it will be impossible to survive’ and that ‘there’s no future in journalism in Malta’. I persevered regardless because sometimes, it’s harder to persuade people that an idea is viable than it is to just do it and then watch as they all eventually come round to it and say ‘wow, that’s impressive’.

I am not telling you all of this to guilt-trip you into donating to the poor, broke, young journalist trying to make a difference. I do not need your pity or your sympathy, nor do I need to convince you of my worth. I knew just how difficult it would be to walk this path the minute I set out on it. All I need from you is to understand what’s at stake and what it takes to produce respectable, credible work.

I am telling you all of this because I need every reader to understand that if you’re seeing a story that’s coming from me, you know it’s coming from a journalist who’s hungry for real stories and really just sticking it to anyone who needs to be held accountable for their actions, because that’s what journalism is meant to do.

In simpler terms, I am telling you to prove to you that you can rest assured that every donation that goes into this project is going to a project that exists to defy odds and to go against the grain, because that is what one must do to produce quality journalism in a country that stifles it. Quality journalism must rely on reader donations not only to safeguard independence in an era of predatory media outlets hawking reputation management but also because the media industry itself has been in decline for decades.

I am also telling you all of this because already, in just over a month of being operational, people who do not know anything about me have been consistently attempting to pigeon-hole me as either an agent of the Nationalist Party or some bizarre pseudo-covert Labourite sticking it to Bernard Grech and Roberta Metsola whenever the mood strikes.

Nobody owns me, nobody has any strings attached to me, and nobody tells me what to do or what to say. I will fiercely protect the independence of this project precisely because that is all that matters to me.

I have no agenda other than the truth and a passionate distaste for anyone who seeks to corrupt the world in order to profit from it.

I fly a black flag, and there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop me from doing so.

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