Journalism and leaks

Over at Lawfare, Jack Goldsmith had a great article called “Journalism in the Doxing Era“. Professor Goldsmith examined the differences between data published by Wikileaks and The New York Times. I’m no journalist, but I am a journalish, and the thing that stood out to me is what makes the act of publication journalism.

Two attributes, in my mind, make the publishing of leaked or stolen information journalism. First, authentication. Responsible journalism requires presenting facts, not rumors. If documents are published, they had better be the real deal. It’s easy to fake correspondence that looks authentic, but if you publish it, it had better be real.

The second attribute is editorial filtering. Once you’re left with true (or at least authentic) documents, what’s newsworthy? There’s an argument that everything should be published so the public can decide for themselves what they think is important. I’m sympathetic to that, but it’s also a little lazy. Journalists should not just be gatherers of information, but they should be curators of it. That means chucking out what’s not important in favor of what is.

Of course, importance is very context-sensitive, but some things are pretty clear. John Podesta’s risotto recipe? Not important (unless there’s a food blog that wants to run with it). The Clinton campaign receiving debate questions in advance? Important. (As an aside, the whole “but her emails” thing overall may prove to be one of the great tragedies of the 21st century. That doesn’t make this particular example unnewsworthy.)

An editorial filter does lend itself to bias, and an even greater perception of bias by those biased in the opposite direction. Nonetheless, most news consumers don’t have time to examine everything and draw their own informed conclusions. Journalists serve the public interest when they collect facts, but also when they curate them.

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