WikiLeaks and Journalism

Is what WikiLeaks does journalism?

Yes.   The core of journalism has nothing to do with a person’s training, employer, title, salary, or specific media affiliation. The core of journalism is the activity of gathering information and releasing it to the public. WikiLeaks’ purpose is to “bring important news and information to the public.” What sets WikiLeaks apart from some more traditional journalistic outlets is its focus on publishing “original source material. . .so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth.” While posting original documents online may seem a bit different from printing an excerpt from a speech in a newspaper, both styles are simply different ways to share information with the world.   When critics claim that WikiLeaks is not a journalistic outlet or that Julian Assange is not a journalist, they ignore the real issue. They focus on a specific, narrow interpretation of professional journalism instead of the purpose of journalism. Perhaps more importantly, they overlook the fact that important legal protections — like the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — apply to more than just traditional journalists working for established companies. The First Amendment protects the press: every person’s freedom to publicly express their views and share information and opinion with the world.

What is the relationship between WikiLeaks and traditional journalists?

While there are some key differences in how WikiLeaks works and how traditional journalists function, they really just pursue different ways to share information with the public. In fact, traditional journalists often work with WikiLeaks to break important stories based on leaked information or report on documents released by WikiLeaks.

How would journalism be affected if Julian Assange were extradited and tried in the U.S.?

The impact would be catastrophic. 

Reporters, legal scholars, and media critics have noted that the allegations against Julian involve the same kind of news-gathering and publishing behavior that mainstream journalists have practiced for centuries. The indictment against Julian interprets the Espionage Act in such an aggressive way that it could be applied to anyone who works with a source who has access to secret information and any act of publishing information the government feels puts people in danger. This opens the door to widespread persecution of journalists who reveal unflattering information about those in power.

Perhaps more importantly, this interpretation of the law jeopardizes the public’s access to the information they need to know to make informed decisions on the issues. Governments already have a significant advantage in shaping the debate — the “bully pulpit” lets them speak directly to the people and their power to classify information enables them to shape the debate. If revealing secrets is criminalized, our ability to uncover official misconduct and corruption is drastically weakened.