The Focus Falls on WikiLeaks

Could the Sweden-based site be the future of journalism?

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When Sweden-based web site WikiLeaks released long-sought video of a 2007 Baghdad incident that ended in the deaths of several Iraqi civilians and two Reuters journalists, it provoked a firestorm of coverage. But beyond the coverage of the U.S. military's controversial actions and cover-up, much attention has fallen on the group that started this in the first place. What is WikiLeaks, exactly? How did they get this video, what did they hope to accomplish, and what role are they playing in the global conversation into which they've just injected themselves?

  • How WikiLeaks Publishes  The BBC reports, "Anyone can submit to WikiLeaks anonymously, but a team of reviewers - volunteers from the mainstream press, journalists and WikiLeaks staff - decides what is published." It claims to host over a million documents. WikiLeaks Director Julian Assange tells them, "We use advanced cryptographic techniques and legal techniques to protect sources." BBC reports that WikiLeaks relies on permissive web hosting laws in Sweden and Iceland to function.
  • Leaks Repository, Independent Journalism, or Open-Source Spies?  The New York Times' Noam Cohen and Brian Stelter evaluate, "With the Iraq attack video, the clearinghouse for sensitive documents is edging closer toward a form of investigative journalism and to advocacy." However, WikiLeaks' Assange tells them, "That’s arguably what spy agencies do — high-tech investigative journalism. ... It’s time that the media upgraded its capabilities along those lines." As for the group's size, "Today there is a core group of five full-time volunteers, according to Daniel Schmitt, a site spokesman, and there are 800 to 1,000 people whom the group can call on for expertise in areas like encryption, programming and writing news releases."
  • WikiLeaks' Potent Combination  Wired's Nathan Hodge sees that the "website dedicated to anonymous leaks has become a venue for a more traditional model of investigative reporting. 'In terms of journalism efficiency, I think we discovered a lot with a small amount of resources,' Assange said. Combining leaked material and sending reporters into the field, he added, was a 'powerful combination.'"
  • The Future of Journalism  Foreign Policy's Jonathan Stray explains why. "No traditional journalism organization was able to bring it to the public, as these tapes are normally classified; Reuters filed an FOIA request but never received a response." But WikiLeaks is not just a "passive" repository for leaks. "They cultivate and protect anonymous sources, verify submitted materials, add context, and promote important leaks. ... It prints no paper, but instead stores its articles online in Sweden, where journalists are required by law not to reveal sources. ... Wikileaks, however, makes no bones about its desire to advance a political message, promising sources that their material will be used for 'maximal political impact.'"
  • Can Challenge Governments That Reporters Can't  TechPresident's Nancy Scola notes, "Wikileaks reach, amorphousness, and willingness to protect its sources come what may has raised the ire of some governments; it was recently revealed -- on Wikileaks, naturally -- that the government of Australia had included the clearinghouse on a blacklist of websites that it was considering banning in the country."
  • Proves Newspapers Are Irrelevant  TechDirt's Mike Masnick scoffs, "there's no doubt that the release of the video is a journalistic scoop. And yet, we keep being told that if newspapers fail, no one will be left to do investigative journalism? So what were the traditional journalists doing to get this story?"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.