A lot of my American friends see the story as undemocratic, but I think the Wikileaks publishing of 90,000 documents about the war in Afghanistan (background here, TL;DR version of documents here) shows a few things: 1) the power of digital communications to help inform people, 2) the death of traditional media yet also 3) the usefulness traditional media still has?
Thoughts? I suppose I better explain myself first…
The fact that we have sites which are (relatively) well-known where people can leave this sort of information is fantastic. It shows that people refuse to be drones and don’t like the public being lied to (that actually ties into the idea of story, but that’s for another post). What you have to hope though is that the site can stay up. For example, there’s no mirror site and trying to access it this morning has been horrific. It’s well and truly slashdotted.
Having said how wonderful Wikileaks is, there’s always been a place for people to go with sensitive information. A place where they could hand it over and have their identity protected. It’s a place called newspapers (and to be fair, TV too. But when you think of the big scoops I think print trumps TV – see The Pentagon Papers, Watergate and so on). Therefore it’s a damning indictment that the leaker decided to not go to the traditional press. Was it because of declining influence, lack of trust over protecting sources or because the US press (especially) has been seen to be highly uncritical of the recent wars?
Having said that, Wikileaks wanted this story out to as many places as possible and as many people as possible talking about it. And it knew that the best way of doing that was still to use international press, which it did, calling on The Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel to analyse the documents in advance. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, traditional media still has a lot of life in it – from reaching people who don’t do the web (yes, there’s a lot of those people still) to getting highly-valued links on the web – and even as circulations go down, it’s not going anywhere for at least 20 years.
Of course, the leaks are only worthwhile if they bring about change and people get engaged? Will they? I’m sceptical, but I would like to be proven wrong.
What do others think? Is this a win for democracy, traditional press, digital? All of the above or none?
There is also the possibility that this is all a cover for something else…