If journalism doesn’t embrace WikiLeaks, journalism is signing its own death sentence

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.

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2 thoughts on “If journalism doesn’t embrace WikiLeaks, journalism is signing its own death sentence

  1. Norman

    Exactly what is a journalist job today? What are the different categories? Where is the independence? Where is the objectivity? Are there really investigative journalists today, or are they just essentially copy boys/girls for spin & P.R. handed down which they rewrite as if they were scoops? Between the consolidation of the Media the ineptness of the owners, along with the censorship today, it’s a wonder that anything can really be the truth that the public reads, views, listens too.

    It remains to be seen whether or not this whole affair is a shake out by the Government itself, or that the U.S. has passed the “Rubicon”. All things considered, the World will know shortly. One thing is evident, each week there is another lug dropped upon the population, each seeming to overshadow the previous one.

  2. Jay B.

    It is not a question of whether WikiLeaks as a page does the journalism, it is not very productive to analyse this question and many people do so. The question I reckon we should be interested in is what is this page going to bring into the field of journalism. It is not important to define whether as a insider or an outside source. In few months it is not going to be just WikiLeaks but also OpenLeaks and many more bringing vast amount of information changing whatever input journalists very getting before. The world of journalism’s greatest dilemma to be feared of is how are they going to establish new standards of what to publish.

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