At 6.30am on Monday, Peter Bárdy, the editor-in-chief of aktuality.sk, a Slovakian news website, received a phone call to inform him that one of his employees had been murdered. Ján Kuciak, a 27-year-old investigative reporter, and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová, had been found shot dead at their home in Vel’ká Mača, 40 miles (65km) east of Bratislava.
“It was the worst moment of my career, to tell 27 people from my editorial team …,” Bardy checks himself, “to tell 26 people from my editorial team that one of them, Ján Kuciak, is dead.”
Peter Habara, an editor at aktuality.sk, was in the office early that morning too. “It’s impossible to comprehend – my wife and I were making plans to visit Ján and Martina in their new house,” he says.
His colleagues had been cheerful when they arrived at the office. Soon after, the newsroom was in tears. In the days since, Habara has woken in the night thinking someone is standing over him with a gun.
Colleagues describe Kuciak as a modest, dedicated and serious-minded reporter who specialised in data journalism and eschewed the limelight. “He was in journalism because he wanted to make Slovakiaa better country, not because he wanted to be famous,” recalls Bárdy. “I used to struggle to convince him to let me publish his photo alongside his stories. Eventually, he said, ‘OK, but could you make my face as small as possible?’ And now he’s the most famous journalist in the world.”
In the midst of their grief, the editorial team came to an immediate, collective decision: in tribute to Kuciak, they would get to work fact-checking, editing and publishing his final, unfinished investigation.
Despite members of the investigative team now having to live under police protection, Kuciak’s article was published less than 48 hours after his colleagues had received the news of his death. Aktuality.sk shared the text of the investigation, which is also available in English, with all their Slovakian competitors, who published it simultaneously in solidarity.
“Our message is that if you kill a journalist, more information will come out,” says Bárdy. “They can’t kill all of us.”
My report from Bratislava for the Guardian can be found here.