The Wikileaks story
Telling the Story of WikiLeaks
“Scientific journalism.” That is the phrase WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange uses to describe what he does. By posting source documents directly on the Internet, readers no longer need to rely on the journalists’ interpretations. Instead, they can read the evidence for themselves and draw their own conclusions.
The digital age may have changed the way we exchange information. But one thing that blogs, Facebook, and Twitter have not changed is the centrality of storytelling in making that information meaningful. This was the problem with the thousands of documents posted on the WikiLeaks website in 2010. Despite constituting the biggest leak in history, the military reports from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the diplomatic cables from U.S. embassies around the world did not, in themselves, tell a coherent story. This is where the newspapers collaborating with WikiLeaks played their role. They made meaning out of the documents by providing context and interpretation. Each newspaper provided a different emphasis and narrative arc--depending on its politics, national affiliation, and overall worldview.
What emerged was not one, but many stories, about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and about U.S. and world diplomacy more generally.
Although numerous accounts of Julian Assange and his organization appeared throughout 2010, the full story of the WikiLeaks phenomenon had yet to be told. By the end of the year, stories about the leaked documents no longer dominated the headlines. With whistleblower Bradley Manning in solitary confinement for the indefinite future and Assange under house arrest awaiting possible extradition to Sweden on sexual misconduct charges, the newspapers that collaborated with Assange regrouped to tell the definitive story of WikiLeaks itself.
In late January, The New York Times released Open Secrets: WikiLeaks, War and American Diplomacy, its first ever eBook. WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy, available from The Guardian in both print and digital editions, followed a few days later. Despite their titles and timing, the main value of these books does not lie in their in-depth analysis of American war and diplomacy as revealed by WikiLeaks. Nor, for all the attempts at exposé, does it lie in juicy. behind-the-scenes details of Assange’s dealings with the mainstream press. Instead, these books are valuable for what they reveal about the newspapers themselves. As with the war logs and cablegate, readers learn of the many ways to tell the story of WikiLeaks and that the story of these stories is perhaps the most important story of all.