21 Oct 2013

How whistleblowing went mainstream

Another day, another leak of information from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden – this time detailing allegations that the National Security Agency spied on French mobile phone communications.


Having just watched two films on WikiLeaks – the excellent We Steal Secrets and the less-than-excellent Cumberbatch-fest The Fifth Estate – it struck me there’s an argument that traditional media has performed a neat piece of judo on its younger online rival.

After all, the Snowden leaks are exactly the kind of thing WikiLeaks made its name on – huge volumes of data on security subjects that can be released en masse and data mined by the crowd.

A few years back, it would have been a no-brainer for Snowden that WikiLeaks was the right forum for his expose.

The fact that it’s The Guardian, among other traditional media, which has published the revelations is partly, of course, a reflection of WikiLeaks’ diminished state since the self-imposed incarceration of its founder Julian Assange.

But it also shows how, whether through luck or design, The Guardian has acknowledged, absorbed, and moved beyond WikiLeaks. By offering to confer authority on WikiLeaks’ biggest stories – the Afghan war logs and diplomatic cables – The Guardian neatly cemented its position as a destination for whistleblowers.

Now, sources like Snowden head straight for The Guardian, rather than bothering with WikiLeaks. It seems the site’s USP – that leaks are publishing unedited – is less appealing than the clout offered by mainstream media.

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