When historians look back at WikiLeaks and how the world's pundits tried to make sense of what was happening, they'll see a familiar list of sources: Foreign Policy's Evgeny Morozov, The Guardian's John Noughton, The New York Times' David Carr, several people from the Berkman Center for the Internet and Society, and various long-time digital leaders like Geert Lovink and Larry Sanger.
But among that list you'd also find Aaron Bady and his blog zunguzungu.wordpress.com. His probing analysis of Julian Assange's personal philosophy and possible motivations became an oft-cited piece of the global conversation about what WikiLeaks might mean. Before Bady's November 29 post, Julian Assange and the Computer Conspiracy; "To destroy this invisible government", only a few hundred people a day found their way Bady's blog. In the days afterward, tens of thousands of people swarmed to the site -- and Bady ended up linked by some of the most influential media outlets on the planet.
This article explores how that happened because it shows that in today's media landscape, an act of journalism can spread quickly to the very highest levels of the culture and news industry, no matter where it comes from. Bady follows in the footsteps of Josh Marshall, who began Talking Points Memo to cover the Florida recount and Michael Barnett, who heroically covered the Katrina catastrophe. But Bady might be most like Doris Dungey, the blogger known as Tanta, who called and explained the bursting of the housing bubble anonymously from her home in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. A long-time mortgage industry insider, Dungey's blog posts were cited by The New York Times' Paul Krugman and carried a weight that stemmed from her knowledge and writing skill, not her (then-unknown) credentials.
So, who is this latest unknown to come out of nowhere to shape the national debate around a major issue? Bady is a seventh-year PhD student in African literature at the University of California, Berkeley who studies "the literature of empire and colonialism in the last two centuries." He's finishing up his dissertation on white Americans in Africa between the civil war and the civil rights movement.
Bady's kept the Zunguzungu blog since March of 2007 when he traveled to Tanzania. He's averaged 15 or 20 posts a month since, mostly just links and blockquoted excerpts. In May of 2010, he had a big day when he posted about "The Soul of Mark Zuckerberg," deconstructing one Zuckerberg quote with the help of W.E.B. DuBois. That post ended up linked by Jillian York, who works at Harvard's Berkman Center for the Internet and Society. Bady thinks it's that post that brought his blog to the attention of several in that sphere, including Cambridge resident and ethnomusicologist Wayne Marshall, who just so happens to be giving a talk at Berkman tomorrow. Marshall, in turn, appears to have been the key link between Bady and the world at large. He retweeted Bady's announcement of his post on November 29. (UPDATE, 8:04 pm: Marshall pointed out to me on Twitter he's known about Bady since December of 2008, and he's got a blog post to prove it.)