Monday, November 29, 2010


I'm sure I won't be the only one to touch on the Wikileaks controversy, but hopefully I can help provide some background, a summary of the various dominating schools of thought over it, and the role Wikileaks plays in 21st century online journalism.

For those unfamiliar with the site, Wikileaks is a nonprofit organization that publishes documents and other materials that would otherwise be inaccessible to the public at large. Founded in 2007, the site quickly garnered several new media awards from prestigious organizations such as The Economist and Amnesty International.

Most recently, Wikileaks is making headlines after releasing a quarter-million classified diplomatic cables to major news outlets such as The New York Times and The Guardian. Major revelations in the documents include evidence the U.S. State Department spied on the Secretary General of the United Nations, Saudi Arabia urged the U.S. to invade Iran and serious corruption within the Afghanistan government.

Reaction to the leaks has been mixed. Some praise Wikileaks for its contribution to transparency, with noted media critic Jeff Jarvis blogging "The only solution to leaks is then not more secrecy but more transparency," while others have criticized the leaks, claiming they put Americans in danger and some information is better left secret.

What does this mean for online news?
Obviously it is impossible to say for sure because leaks continue to be reported and the entire episode is ongoing. That said, I would argue Wikileaks impacts online journalism by elevating the importance of crowdsourcing and collaboration and, on a broader scale, reintroducing Americans to hard news.

Wikileaks operates by releasing thousands upon thousands of documents, and then asking others to sift through them for the important information. If this method of reporting is to become the norm, then crowdsourcing will subsequently grow in value.

In a broader sense, I believe Americans are suffering from the shock of substantial, hard news. The average news consumer has been lulled by the atrophy of journalism as cable and a lot of online news consists of horse-race stories of little consequence to the reader. Now that readers are confronted with serious news with serious implications, they are scared and don't know how to react.

Obviously I am generalizing, but I think there is some truth to the claim that much of the outrage over the leaks comes from a consumer base being unsure how to react to hard, consequential news because it is so rare.

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