Mathew Ingram writes:
While the U.S. government tries to determine whether what WikiLeaks and front-man Julian Assange have done qualifies as espionage, media theorists and critics alike continue to debate whether releasing those classified diplomatic cables qualifies as journalism. It’s more than just an academic question — if it is journalism in some sense, then Assange and WikiLeaks should be protected by the First Amendment and freedom of the press. The fact that no one can seem to agree on this question emphasizes just how deeply the media and journalism have been disrupted, to the point where we aren’t even sure what they are any more.
The debate flared up again on the Thursday just before Christmas, with a back-and-forth Twitter discussion involving a number of media critics and journalists, including MIT Technology Review editor and author Jason Pontin, New York University professor Jay Rosen, PhD student Aaron Bady, freelance writer and author Tim Carmody and several other occasional contributors. Pontin seems to have started the debate by saying — in a comment about a piece Bruce Sterling wrote on WikiLeaks and Assange — that the WikiLeaks founder was clearly a hacker, and therefore not a journalist.
Pontin’s point, which he elaborated on in subsequent tweets, seemed to be that because Assange’s primary intent is to destabilize a secretive state or government apparatus through technological means, then what he is doing isn’t journalism. Not everyone was buying this, however. Aaron Bady — who wrote a well-regarded post on Assange and WikiLeaks’ motives — asked why he couldn’t be a hacker and a journalist at the same time, and argued that perhaps society needs to have laws that protect the act of journalism, regardless of who practices it or what they call themselves.
Journalism is a nebulous enterprise. In its mainstream form it carries the pretensions of objectivity and balance. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the vile liberal sensibilities of National Public Radio.
This afternoon, All Things Considered ran a segment about temporary workers “who are helping make our holidays brighter.” To hear it the way NPR tells it, the pool of 15 million unemployed Americans and the seasonal need for temporary workers is the happiest of conjunctions — packing boxes for Amazon has never been so much fun as it is for those now desperate for a full-time job. It all adds up to a healthy dose of Christmas cheer.
If this qualifies as journalism, who has the damn nerve to argue that WikiLeaks isn’t qualified to claim this lofty title?
But perhaps more important — at least for journalists who want journalism to survive — now is the time to be arguing for and defending the most expansive possible definition of journalism. Otherwise journalism will become a protected territory that successfully argues itself out of existence.