WikiLeaks Afghanistan Documents Show Internet's True Power in News

Chris CrumBusiness

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The big news of the moment is that the site WikiLeaks has published over 90,000 secret military documents related to the war in Afghanistan. Posted on Sunday, the documents had previously been shared with three publications (under embargo): The New York Times, The Guardian, and Germany's Der Spiegel.

The White House called the posting of such documents "irresponsible", but New York Times Washington Bureau Chief Dean Baquet is quoted as saying, "I think it was clear to them, in our conversations, that we were handling it with care."  The New York Times has expressed that its own staff conducted the research necessary to form its story, as WikiLeaks simply provided the documents.

The Atlantic has an interesting piece about how "WikiLeaks May Have Just Changed the Media," calling the event "a milestone in the new news ecosystem." Alexis Madrigal, senior editor for writes:

Traditional media organizations are increasingly reaching out to different kinds of smaller outfits for help compiling data and conducting investigations. NPR is partnering with several journalism startups to deliver their information out to a larger audience. The Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University broke a large story on renewable energy in association with ABC's World News Tonight. ProPublica's 32 full-time investigative reporters offer their stories exclusively to a traditional media player.

New conduits have opened into the most highly regarded newsrooms in the country; while that's probably a good thing, it adds a layer of complexity to a story like this. While ProPublica and others are certainly journalism outfits, WikiLeaks is neither here nor there. The video that caused their last news splash -- "Collateral Murder" -- seemed like an attempt at an editorial. The group was harshly criticized in many quarters.

A Milestone in Online News "Internet advocates love to say that information likes to be free," wrote Mashable's Samuel Axon recently when he compiled a list of innovative sites that could reshape the news. "There are few greater examples of this than WikiLeaks, which has played an important role in several political scandals and controversies."

Wikipedia points to other notable leaks that have been published at WikiLeaks in the past. These include an apparent Somali assassination order, Guantánamo Bay procedures, Sarah Palin's Yahoo email account contents, Internet censorship lists, 9/11 pager messages, and other U.S. intelligence reports.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is quoted as telling the Guardian, "This situation is different in that it’s not just more material and being pushed to a bigger audience and much sooner … but rather that people can give back. So people around the world who are reading this are able to comment on it and put it in context and understand the full situation. That is not something that has previously occurred. And that is something that can only be brought about as a result of the Internet."

There's no question that point has been made loud and clear this time.

Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.