Who Will Win: Newspapers or WikiLeaks?

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Many have wondered recently what effect WikiLeaks and other informal types of journalism will have on the professional news industry. But The New Yorker's Raffi Khatchadourian notes that major news organizations such as Al Jazeera  (and potentially the New York Times ) are beginning to offer direct portals between leakers and editors. "Will Julian Assange's creation become a victim of its own success?" asks Khatchadourian. "And if his movement is taken over by established news organizations, how might it change?"

He examines the case from several angles:

Assange's Leg Up:

Assange’s ability to publish gives the site leverage in its partnership with mainstream newspapers and magazines. WikiLeaks can set its own deadlines, and, in some respects, frame the way that leaks are initially handled. The remarkable coöperation among major news organizations in sharing the Afghan War Diary, the Iraq War Logs, and the State Department cables reflects their shared knowledge that one way or another Assange planned to put that material in the public domain. None of them could ever have full ownership of the scoop, and yet if something went wrong with a leak each paper would still be stuck with the full liability.

More Sources May Encourage Competition:

If news organizations have their own in-house WikiLeaks operations, would they be as inclined to cooperate? I’m not sure. Al Jazeera has shared the Palestine Papers with the Guardian, and it may be that mass document leaks are so complex that no single organization will ever want to shoulder the burden alone. It is also possible that this kind of coöperation is temporary, a reflection of the newness and initial discomfort that comes with working on a scale that is exceptional, and that a newsroom that is better geared for large database leaks will be less inclined to share them. I don’t know.

The Press's Leg Up:

One thing is certain. In America, a news outlet that builds for itself an in-house unit like the one Al Jazeera has created would be working within greater legal constraints than WikiLeaks, but also with greater freedoms, too.... A legal attack on the New York Times would instantly create a precedent that would very likely apply to all of journalism in America. That is a powerful deterrent—one that is as much social and political as it is legal. In other words, yes, accountability limits the Times, but it also offers it protections—protections that WikiLeaks at the moment does not enjoy because, among other things, there is not enough public consensus on what it is and stands for.

Khatchadourian's observations result mostly in more questions but he concludes with the assertion that "no matter what the outcome, it is hard not to expect greater convergence between old and new media in a way that will strengthen the journalistic project overall."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.