I had a fantastic time this morning at the Polis Journalism conference. I was on a fascinating panel “WikiLeaks and After” with some true heavyweights: George Brock from City University, Angela Philips from Goldsmiths University and John Naughton who writes for the Observer while observing the world from Cambridge.
We talked about what was learned, and by whom, through WikiLeaks. The focus was primarily on journalism, and whether it’s been changed, but we also talked about the systemic and extra-legal response from the US government and corporations, and whether this represented a departure from the previous role of the state, or a resurgence of state power.
We also talked about how mass media create drama in order to maintain their influence, and how the revelation of secrets is part of that enduring drama.
This drama contrasts with the reality of some of the shifts to journalistic practice that WikiLeaks revealed. Many of the panel identified the creation of partnerships between WikiLeaks and mainstream media as the turning point. It not only changed the way that journalists created stories by demanding journalists to sift data and unearth stories, but it introduced internet-based, supra-national drop-boxes as new sets of sources.
The end of the discussion turned on the extent to which journalists need to develop different capacities to work in this new networked, data-intensive sphere, or whether it’s more a question of developing appropriate skills to identify relevant expertise and form instantaneous connections.
It’s clear that systems of power and influence are changing. It’s also clear that states and corporations will continue to have power, but that they will exercise it in different ways in a networked world. Similarly, resistance will operate differently, exploiting the features of the network. How journalism will play a part in reporting, shaping, and reflecting on these exploits remains to be seen.