With the accepted baseline standards for journalism these days, it is a wonder how many people can be rather pompous when it comes to conceding that WikiLeaks is just a new type of journalistic organization. In this article I will write a Wikileaks field guide of sorts which will explain what the organization is and demonstrate that the site is a useful source of journalism; it publishes and edits newsworthy information, just like any other media outlet.
WikiLeaks does not actually leak information. Instead, the organization provides a platform for others to leak classified or sensitive information. The leaked information is meant to help provide insight on systemic or isolated institutional abuses of power. Subverting George Orwell’s famous phrase from "1984", WikiLeaks helps us watch Big Brother. But to simply call the website a magnifying glass on institutions or a “drop box” for whistleblowers would greatly undersell the organization.
To truly comprehend the site’s purpose and significance, we must understand what inspires and motivates the people behind WikiLeaks to provide their unique service. What do the website’s staff and editors, so to speak, claim that their mission is?
The organization seeks to promote “the defence of freedom of speech and media publishing, the improvement of our common historical record and the support of the rights of all people to create new history.” WikiLeaks cites the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as its main source of inspiration. With the humanitarian ideology of its personnel in mind, WikiLeaks is perhaps best understood as a tool that pushes the modern boundaries of journalism and freedom of speech in order to promote fundamental human rights around the world.
But what makes WikiLeaks journalism? For starters, the site is not a source — again, Wikileaks does not leak information. The organization obtains information from anonymous, voluntary, inside sources and then functions as a publisher, specifically on politics and global affairs.
Further, the people at WikiLeaks advocate an idea they call scientific journalism, the publication of “full primary sources.” In other words, WikiLeaks doesn’t dice up their original source material as much as most other news outlets do.
Don’t be fooled. Their unique method of approaching source material doesn’t skirt around content management altogether. WikiLeaks receives huge volumes of documents and files, but it does not publish them all. No doubt, the people behind WikiLeaks must sort through a fair share of politically insignificant or non-newsworthy submissions. Additionally, they redact documents to reduce adverse, unintended fallout from their publications. In the case of the Afghanistan War Logs, alone, they held back one in five documents for "extra harm minimization review.” So, WikiLeaks also partakes in the journalistic practice of editing.
However, "full primary sources" are less accessible to the average Joe than traditional narrative-driven news stories. The people at WikiLeaks fully understand this and they want to make sure their political impact is maximized. Consequently, WikiLeaks has started to openly collaborate with 63 significant traditional news outlets to help make their cut and dry publications more digestible. It is important to note that WikiLeaks is a collaborative journalistic organization; it is not a source.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons