BY JOHN DUNBAR

Let’s set aside for a moment that Julian Assange, the mastermind behind WikiLeaks, is a fugitive from justice thanks to allegations of sexual assault. Let’s also disregard descriptions of him as a hacker (which he resents, reportedly) and a generally odd duck. The question for the day is, is WikiLeaks doing journalism or not?

Most of us veteran reporters with holier-than-thou complexes answer that question with a big fat NO. Back in J-school, they taught us it meant more to be a reporter than simply transcribing what’s been said. One must digest the information, interpret it, decide what’s newsworthy and write a story in clear, concise and accurate pose.

There’s no journalism involved in dumping 250,000 State Department cables on a website. Where’s the digesting and interpreting? And I don’t give him credit for leaking it to news organizations beforehand – that was just PR. And don’t give me that nonsense about WikiLeaks being as important as the release of the Pentagon papers, which exposed years of lies to the public about the conduct of the U.S. during the Vietnam War.

And there are larger concerns – is this guy really putting peoples’ lives in danger, as the government would have us believe? And by doing these massive data dumps, which included secret reports on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, isn’t he going to make it tougher on journalists down the road? Won’t the government clamp down and sources clam up? Maybe the government will stop writing stuff down.

These are all good arguments, but they tend to ignore the new reality. It doesn’t matter if it’s journalism or not. This is a world where practically all information can be digitized and the technology to send enormous chunks of it around the globe is cheap and getting cheaper. Stuff gets leaked. And it will keep getting leaked. And spread around.

Here’s where there is some good news for old journalists, though. Someone still needs to sift through all that stuff and figure out if any of it amounts to real news or not, a process that seems to be under way at the moment.

Whether this massive unshackling of secret information is good for global society is another question. I tend to err on the side of transparency. But that would be cold comfort to the child of whose father was locked up or killed thanks to one of those documents. At a minimum, there seems like there should be some sort of vetting process.

I wanted to do a little vetting of my own for this blog post. But for now, WikiLeaks itself is a secret. I can’t get on the darn website.

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