What are 92,000 pages of military information without a journalist? As the release of the Afghanistan war papers show, it would be a bunch words and numbers with no context or impact.
The site Wikileaks highlighted the importance of journalists when it handed over 90,000 pages of classified information to The New York Times, Der Spiegel and The Guardian weeks ago. It provided the media outlets an opportunity to report and add background to the documents that make up the 21st century’s version of the Pentagon Papers, prior to the release of the files last night.
With the growth of online outlets, the amount of data available has increased infinitely. This growth of data has shifted the role of a journalist to more of a provider of context, and less about finding the bulk data. As Webnewser’s Alex Weprin puts it “This is what the future holds. More and more, information will be put in public for all to see, and the gatekeepers’ role will change along with it.”
But with the change in online media, why were the only gatekeepers offered the chance to provide this context three old media news organizations? Why wasn’t the information thrown onto the Wikileaks site and offered to all online entities at the same time? Or, why weren’t any online news organizations at least part of the conversation?
It likely has to do with the sensitive nature of the subject, but that’s simply an insult to the bloggers and journalists that work online. It implies online journalists care less about the impact of their words than their print counterparts.
Blogs and other online news organizations would have loved an opportunity to jump at the data just as much as the NYT, Guardian and Der Spiegel. And, the online outlets have shown an ability to cull through this type of information quicker and more effective than the old regimes.
It’s a strange move by Wikileaks, which promotes the open exchange of information simply by its existence. But it’s a step back for online news outlets because they weren’t given an opportunity to show their worth, prior to the release of the documents. However, it could be a perfect occasion for someone out there to find something the old organizations missed. And, there’s almost no doubt, someone will.