Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Wikileaks: Revolutionizing Investigative Journalism

I came upon wikileaks about a month ago through the social bookmarking site called reddit.com. I chose wikileaks because they represent a true break from traditional and mainstream media. In the first sense, they break away from even traditional news form in that there is pure user driven. In the latter that they are not affiliated with any major news conglomerate.

Wikileaks is a Swedish based site that allows users to anonymously post incendiary, encrypted information. Now while there have been sites that have done just that (ie. Cryptome, The Drudge Report etc.) none have gone the legal, moral and journalistic lengths to protect whistle-blowers. Wikileaks' hosting service, PRQ, provides extremely secure hosting. Additionally, Wikileaks servers are in undisclosed locations and utilize military grade encryption. They vigorously protect the anonymity of the whistle-blowers, making them a haven for Chinese dissidents, employees of corporate conglomerates, military personnel and U.S. government employees. Wikileaks is now working in conjunction with the Icelandic government to draft and pass legislation that will fully protect whistle-blowers.

Very little is known how the site operates internally. The names of staff persons or board members have never been revealed. Only one person continues to speak on behalf on the organization, Julian Assange. Julian Assange has been the face of wikileaks when many a leak has garnered media attention and scrutiny. A few of the leaks include: Climategate, Palin hacked email, Guantanamo Bay Procedures, toxic dumping in Africa, and the collapse of Kaupthing Bank (pdf warning for last link). Finally, one their most shocking leaks is the just released 39-minute long video of an Apache helicopter shooting down what appeared to be unarmed civilians and two Reuters journalists.

The work that Wikileaks has done is extraordinary. However, it is not the shocking content that makes them so extraordinary. I do not want to downplay the importance of the work their doing in saying that the content is not what is at the heart of this website. What makes this site extraordinary in the world of media and alternative media is that they have become a clearing house of information. As a result of their leaks citizens, journalists and governments have tuned in and are doing things about it. Thanks to their leaks further investigation into climatologists reports were questions (and subsequently cleared), what would've been our Vice President was discredited, legislation was passed to severely regulate the banks like Kaupthing of Iceland, and further investigation was conducted into the dumping of toxic chemicals off the coast of Africa.

Now as wonderful as this organization is, they are a non-profit who's only revenue stream is donations. At the moment their site is managed by volunteers, their equipment was donated and their legal fees (which dear god in heaven are expensive!) are paid by a surprising mix of old media (IE. AP and The LA Times). To keep the site running they must collect €600,000 if the volunteers were paid. Some believe that the latest leak (especially the way in which the leak was exposed) show that Wikileaks is so strapped for cash they are resorting to the same sensationalistic tricks performed by the main stream media. I suggest everyone take a look at the video.

Watching this video is something I'd like to not repeat again. For obvious reasons, but also for something deeper. With new media forms taking shape like wikileaks, have we become so accustomed to the filtered, spinned and packaged media that we can't make an opinion of our own. I'm not talking about that immediate gut level reaction to something, I'm talking of an informed, well-thought out opinion of a piece of news. No matter how clever Jon Stewart or Rachel Maddow is, no matter how much I can agree with them I find myself seeing them as baby food. Easy to chew, easy to digest, it agrees with your just fine but does it sustain you? Does it challenge your heart and your mind? Or does it just reaffirm and repackage what you always thought? I thought the news was suppose to be new.

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