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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Who needs the New York Times when you have WikiLeaks?


“For The Times to ignore this material would be to deny its own readers the careful reporting and thoughtful analysis they expect when this kind of information becomes public.”

By now, WikiLeaks and Julian Assange have turned over the next mega-batch of secret U.S. government data, and publications everywhere are scrambling to make sense of it all. Seeing as most of the fallout will again reflect on American policy, I can’t help but wonder if WikiLeaks comes off less like it’s speaking truth to power and more like an anonymous tip line. Because they can release secrets though, should they?

Those two dynamics are the inherent problem nature of the information age: People not only want the story right now, but right. Lately on Twitterville though, right now tends to win out.

But if Wikileaks really is this unedited and unvarnished savior of the truth, then why, as the bold part of the quote above indicates, do we even need middlemen publishers to interpret it for us? This is what technology was always supposed to do, no? Wiki gives you the keys to the store so you can go in and look around at your leisure, just lock up when you’re done.

What’s wrong with that?

Except, you need a filter for large amounts of data, otherwise, most people wouldn’t likely know what they’re looking at. Conventional wisdom also says you also need a reporter’s checks and balances to verify dates, places, etc. It’s here where the case for WikiLeaks as savior falls flat. It’s apparently going to release everything it has to other countries, unlike the Times, which has safety concerns over content that could put lives at risk.

So what?

If you believe the ends justify the means, then Wikileaks is journalism’s hero. (If so, then launching DDS attacks on the press has to be a no-fly zone.) If you believe though that the ends never do, then Wikileaks needs to adhere to some journalistic standards at some point. Since they’re releasing all of their data regardless of consequence, clearly, they don’t care about the latter.

Which has darker implications: At some point, what happens when the secrets being released are no longer about governments, but everyday people? Why not – don’t you have a right to know all your neighbor’s secrets?


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