(Jason Stverak) – With the state of the media in disarray, many are looking to answer the all-important question: What is the future of journalism? The proposed answers range from the government investing in the re-emergence of the traditional newspaper business to the ever-growing popularity of Internet news websites. But one thing is certain: WikiLeaks and websites that are dedicated to shock-and-awe news do not have a place in the journalism debate.
The first reason to exclude WikiLeaks from the “journalism” classification is simply that WikiLeaks isn’t journalism – posting raw information doesn’t cut it.
Journalism is the hard if-your-mother-says-she-loves-you-check-it-out work of verifying, corroborating, digging up, questioning all parties, putting in context, tracking back to original sources and ruthlessly assaying information. Then comes the hardest part, taking all of the research and work and boiling it down into an accurate, comprehensive and balanced distillation of the entire situation for the public. The act of dumping 250,000 messages on the Web does not meet this criterion.
Second, there is the legal aspect. Stealing classified information and publishing it for the masses is against the law and should be viewed as such. Government officials as well as numerous media organizations have agreed to this point. Columnist Ezra Levant recently wrote in National Review, “[C]onsider if WikiLeaks had hacked into a bank computer to steal customers’ credit card information and then published that on the Internet. Journalism? Free speech? Of course not – theft, breach of privacy, and perhaps fraud, too.”
WikiLeaks also failed to remember that ethical and moral responsibilities are the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility. Thousands of journalists every year sign on to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. Although voluntary, these basic journalistic principles separate true journalists, who act in the interest of their readers, and political advocates, who only want to be activists.
We all need to take Wiki-Leaks for what it is, which is a website dedicated to exposing its version of the truth with no context or thought of the ramifications of its actions. It is not journalism or the future of journalism. It will not save the struggling journalism industry or create additional jobs for those reporters who have lost their positions as newspapers have folded.
If we are looking to the future of journalism, we should look at online nonprofit organizations that are churning out investigative pieces and breaking news stories that the traditional media are no longer equipped to do. Nonprofit news organizations have broken stories involving congressional scandal, election fraud, taxpayer abuse and hundreds of other topics that matter to the voting public. These organizations’ online journalists are emerging as the hard-news reporters who investigate stories traditional media cannot or will not cover.
Those of us who work in journalism know better than anyone what a tough, disciplined calling it is. That is why we hire professionals and rigorously train citizens to be journalists. That is why we know journalism will survive without the help of WikiLeaks.
(Jason Stverak is president of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity)