By Michael O’Connell

Check the New York Times right now for the latest article based on WikiLeaks info. The scope of this story is pretty amazing when you consider how many different areas and issues it sheds light on concerning the way the State Department conducts itself.

As a journalist, my gut feeling is that the more the public in a democracy knows about what its government is doing and how it is doing it, the better off it will be. Of course, in the matter of secret and confidential documents, you have to remember to pause and consider what might be the effect of releasing such documents. In the rush to release information, remember that lives may be at stake, some directly and some indirectly.

What’s fascinating is the way that the Times approached publishing the information, the steps it took to redact information and then run the material by the Obama Administration. The paper redacted some information at the request of the government, but also it chose, in some instances, to not redact information that the government requested be redacted.

The thing to remember is that other international outlets had the same material and were intending to publish it. As you would expect, the Times did everything it was supposed to and went even further. It shared with the other news outlets its exchanges with the government and the choices it made about what to run. The Times was presenting itself as an ethical leader. Whether the other news outlets follow the paper’s lead is anyone’s guess.

As the paper of record, the Times also made it clear that it had a responsibility to its readers to report the information that was readily available via other sources. What the Times was able to add to the information was the application of its journalistic standards and its reportage. It could help put the information in context. Being able to report the content of the information facilitates the paper’s story about how the release of the information could affect America’s diplomatic standing. Admittedly, that’s a strange snake eating its tale situation.

Part of the public’s “need to know” is the ability to view information that is understandable and relatable to the larger issues at hand. Information without context is just noise.