Wikileaks Without A Sieve

Posted: March 16, 2011 by braillebone in #5 Not for Profit, #8 Wikileaks

.When Wikileaks is examined at the barest level, my opinion is that it has significant value. Simplistically, it serves the exact same purpose as investigative journalism: to publicize wrong and questionable behaviour and information by disabling its secrecy.

Its heart seems to be in the right place, although this is disputed for good reason. Critics speculate Wikileaks leader Julian Assange operated with a specific agenda, one that catered to more left-leaning people and politicians, attacking those with right of centre biases. The article I cited from The Independent, an online blog publication for independent journalists, says Assange undoubtedly operated with an end in mind, but also never claimed he didn’t, so it shouldn’t be such a shock.

This is precisely the reason Wikileaks cannot be called journalism; there is no sieve with which to sort through the overwhelming information, and thus it is much more difficult to draw any informed conclusions. What hasn’t changed is that it would never be proper practice to print or broadcast raw material without first putting it in context for news ingestion. Journalism’s raison d’etre is to sift through that raw material, balance it with other supplemental information explaining it, and in theory does not, by principle, have any sway or bias.

The change has come from the mass amounts of extremely sensitive information dumped on both journalists AND the public, like the 90,000 military documents on Afghanistan. This Reporter’s Roundtable video looks at the issues journalists faced with only having three weeks to sift through the information, making tough decisions under the watchful eye of the public; at this point, everyone was especially aware of Wikileaks.

Perhaps the role of the journalist has become increasingly demanding and significant because of what is now expected of them. Leaks of information are meaningful and necessary as sings the famous William Randolph Hearst quote: “News is something somebody doesn’t want printed; all else is advertising.” So, it is unarguably news. Assange seems to be the secret-sharing vigilante in the realm of journalism, but accredited journalists must now add taming sources like him in order to remain conscious of the possible consequences of failing to put his leaked information in context, and also included masking the identity of those named in the documents such as Afghani people who have been killed as a result of Wikileaks.

There are negative consequences to this sort of Pandora’s Box. It may not be fair to place the burden of decoding mass leaks courtesy of Julian Assange and his people on journalists, especially with tight deadlines, but there really seems to be no other viable option for churning out accurate and comprehensive news.

  1. sharonfawcett says:

    Alexandra, I like your thoughts about why Wikileaks is not journalism. Just placing information in front of an audience doesn’t require any special skill (besides the skill it took to gain it and post it, in this case). Journalists take information, like that provided by Wikileaks, interpret it, and give it context through story. So, if Wikileaks isn’t journalism, can we say it’s a tool for journalists? And that they can take it or leave it, depending on how they feel about the “morality” of using that sort of information?

    • Absolutely, Sharon. It’s funny actually, I meant to write exactly that — Assange and Wikileaks are tools available to use at the discretion of reporters. There is certainly a responsibility on the part of journalists to acknowledge this raw information and it cannot be ignored. Like you pointed out, it is then the burden of the journalist to make sense of it, break it down, and to be cognizant of the repercussions that might follow its publication.

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