WikiLeaks has provided a new model of journalism.
The Transparency Unit, introduced earlier in January in the midst of cablegate, gives whistleblowers a place to anonymously upload documents that they hope will make it into the public eye.
Launched in January 2011, the Al Jazeera Transparency Unit (AJTU) aims to mobilize its audience – both in the Arab world and further afield – to submit all forms of content (documents, photos, audio & video clips, as well as “story tips”) for editorial review and, if merited, online broadcast and transmission on our English and Arabic-language broadcasts.
We believe that this initiative will allow Al Jazeera’s supporters to shine light on notable and newsworthy government and corporate activities which might otherwise go unreported.
In other words: WikiLeaks 2. WikiLeaks’ “About” page contains similar concepts and the philosophy is nearly exactly the same.
Before WikiLeaks, such an approach to information gathering might be frowned upon as irresponsible and unethical – in the journalism world, the use of anonymous sources is a dangerous step away from accountability.
What news organizations (up to now) have failed to see is that the WikiLeaks model follows naturally from the world wide web and, frankly, it’s surprising that it didn’t happen sooner.
Early on in online news, user comments were encouraged and rarely censored. Free speech at its finest, everyone thought. Unfortunately, users hiding behind a cloak of internet anonymity began to degrade discourse in the comments section to a point where it wasn’t worth having unmoderated comments sections. Gene Weingarten put it best:
I basically like “comments,” though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It’s as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots.
The internet-induced anonymity of users degraded online news instead of enhancing it. WikiLeaks turned that around. We will always have commenters with the intelligence of a goldfish making racist comments as “xXx_WH!tePWR_xx” (though hopefully those will be moderated by now). Now, though, we see the other side of that coin as anonymous users bring to light aspects of corporate and political discourse that were previously safe behind closed doors.
Has Al Jazeera taken the first step in a journalism arms race to begin acquiring mass document leaks?
New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller told Yahoo’s Cutline blog that the paper was considering putting together a similar unit.
Executive editor Bill Keller told The Cutline that he couldn’t go into details, “especially since nothing is nailed down.” But when asked if he could envision a system like Al Jazeera’s Transparency Unit, Keller said the paper has been “looking at something along those lines.”
While WikiLeaks’ fate may be unknown – Assange’s extradition hearing on February 7 and 8 could land him on trial in Sweden for rape charges and/or ultimately in the U.S. (maybe as Bradley Manning’s neighbor) – but Assange has already accomplished his mission. No secrets are safe.