In a post on the BBC College of Journalism site, executive editor Kevin Marsh reflects on the release of diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks, which started last week, and the essential part played by investigative journalism in similar scenarios.
Marsh argues that the lack of saliency in industrial leaks means that the “transparency style” of whistleblowers such as WikiLeaks must remain to be seen as a “precursor of journalistic possibilites” rather than a substitute.
The diplodocudump was underwhelming – but that doesn’t mean it was a Bad Thing; no journalist should argue that revelation itself doesn’t serve the public interest. At the very least, it’s about a partial correction of the information asymmetry between power and people.
Journalism – especially investigative journalism – has many shortcomings. There’s no science about what gets investigated and what doesn’t, no guarantee that it’s the biggest scandals – for want of a better word – that get nailed nor that some lesser ‘scandals’ don’t get a place in the public sphere they don’t quite deserve. No guarantee, either, that the evidence stacks up or that the ‘truth’ revealed is uncontestable.
But because of the way most investigative journalism comes about – through a whistleblower who rightly or wrongly senses some kind of moral violation – it has that magic thing we call salience. And it’s salience that leaking on an industrial scale lacks.
His comments follow those by editor of the Guardian Alan Rusbridger on the first day of the release last week, who also argued that newspapers were playing “a vital role” in adding context to the leaked material.