One of the themes treated in the New York Times documentary “Page One” is the role of traditional media, particularly newspapers, in getting information out to the general public. Two examples are used, both involving WikiLeaks: in the first, WikiLeaks posted video of a Reuters reporter being fired at by American air units after the soldiers confused the gear the reporter was carrying for weaponry. In the second, WikiLeaks teamed up with five newspapers – El Pais, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, The Guardian, and The New York Times – to release over 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables.
The roles played by traditional media in these two cases are very different – in the case of the video involving the Reuters crew, the traditional media played no role in the release of the video. WikiLeaks simply posted the video on its website for all the world to see. In the second case, the traditional media were very involved in the process – the 5 newspapers vetted the cables, redacted names and information where they deemed appropriate, and published the cables.
It’s easy to see that no one really needs to involve a typical news organization to get something – whether it’s an idea, a video, or a document – out to the masses. One needs only a website or a blog to do it. WikiLeaks recognized this with the video of the Reuters crew, and decided not to consult with any media organizations to release it. Indeed, the media organizations came to WikiLeaks’ web site to examine the video and to publish it.
However, if one wants his or her idea, video or document to be credible before the world audience, bringing a traditional news media operation on board is the wise thing to do. 250,000 diplomatic cables are sensitive materials to splash on the internet, and to do so without consulting anyone could put the lives of the people mentioned in the cables at risk. Not only that, but it also gives credibility to skeptics who would accuse the publisher of fabricating the documents or of having a grudge against the subject of the idea.
Much of the world increasingly seeks its news from new and alternate sources, but at the same time, most people still place much trust and value on the work of the traditional news media. A niche blog or Twitter account may never have the same credibility as the New York Times. This is because the journalists of the traditional news media have reputations of seekers of the truth, who verify their facts before telling the world what they’ve uncovered. Few people have that same level of credibility.