Online whistleblower WikiLeaks has made quite a splash making available various pieces of information that governments, corporations and mainstream media don’t want us to know.
It has attracted fierce critics from the right, supporters from the left and caused lively debate in both the traditional and social media. It’s been busy rewriting the rules on information sharing, while its eccentric founder, Julian Assange has become quite the mystery man.
But what is WikiLeaks’ real purpose? To release privileged information in its raw form, leaving it up to the consumer to make up his/her mind? Or do they have their own agenda?
In the video below, Assange explains that due to a lot of the source documents WikiLeaks gets being exceptionally long and difficult to understand, they are interpreted – and Assange admits this interpretation goes beyond a mere summary – to make them understandable and consumable for the general public.
But Assange’s admission raises new questions. The minute anyone interprets anything its meaning gets altered. There is not a journalist on Earth who can take thousands of pages of complicated source material and transform it into one page of plain English without affecting, and indeed influencing how its meaning will be perceived.
To his credit, Assange explains that the original material is always released alongside the interpretation. But he’s already said the source data is too long and complicated for most people to understand. So what are the chances of them going back to it to check that what they’ve just read/viewed is an accurate interpretation?
Assange adds that the material is edited for impact. Given that impact is an extremely subjective thing, this further complicates matters given that the perceived meaning of the material will then be firmly in the hands of the editor.
Assange also freely admits that WikiLeaks is indeed an activist organisation, with a goal. Yes, that stated goal is an honourable one – justice – but the mere existence of a goal at all means the organisation can’t be objective.
WikiLeaks finds itself in a position of immense power. It has done an enthusiastic job of keeping governments, organisations and the mainstream media in check, but who will keep it in check?
Today’s entry is purely a journalism-related one. As you may know I started a contract at a new paper last week. Well, on Tuesday I was reminded of one of the things I love about journalism.
Being a journalist, you’re always going to get a mixed bag of stories to work on. Some will be really interesting, some will be less so. Some will be sad (I had such a story this week). Some will involve merely re-writing a media release, while others will involve trying to find an angle in some fairly dry source material.
On Tuesday I was handed what seemed like a fairly dry report to read through and find an angle on for my paper’s readership. And I very nearly missed something that was staring straight at me.
After spending much of the day getting regulation comment from the appropriate spokespeople, I decided to read a section of the report I had skimmed over. I had skimmed over it because it concerned the research methodology and I was only interested in the findings.
In short, I had decided what I was looking for. Now if you don’t have a lot of time, deciding what you’re looking for can help you to turn out a fairly decent news story quickly. But it can also sometimes mean you miss out on something far more important.
Well, I’m glad I decided to read through the methodology section. For in it I found my real story.
At the start of this ramble I said I was reminded about one of the things I love about what I do. In short, that thing is the rush you get when you realise you really have something. Something more than just dry commentary or an everyday interview.
Rather, an important piece of information that your readership don’t know; one that they should know; and that they will now know because you will tell it to them.
It’s those little moments of satisfaction that make it all worthwhile.
The moral of the story? Don’t decide what you want to find. Open your mind. Think outside the square. And remember, the best stories are often to be found where a lot of people won’t go looking for them.