Viral News, Activist Citizen Journalists, and Wikileaks

Ideas and Issues

freedom of speech

New Orleans   Increasingly the definitions of journalism are devolving into a simple proposition:   news is where you find it, and a journalist is whoever might have brought the story to you.  Old school journalists, newspapers trying to hold on to their business model, and news and broadcast institutions long dedicated to acting as voices for power in their communities and countries may bridle at this notion as they hide behind the fabricated artifice that they have no biases, but as we can see from current events, the times they are changing.  

Cases in point seem to be everywhere:

  • Wendy Davis’s Texas filibuster was a viral internet hit on a live YouTube feed not through the legislature’s own cameras, but through a feed supported by the Texas Tribune, a nonprofit policy sourcing outfit committed to the role of “public media.”  At the midnight closing of the filibuster, the Tribune had 182,000 logged in, more than MSNBC’s TV channel.
  • David Carr, the media critic for the New York Times, acknowledged the fact that the main source for much of the news coming from the Bradley Manning trial given the cutbacks from mainstream media outlets is an activist, Alexa O’Brien, who has faithfully been “comprehensively transcribing” the trial.  O’Brien won a correction from the Times for not calling her a journalist, as Carr concedes she is.  “You are reading my journalistic work, using my journalistic work, and linking to my journalistic work about the largest criminal investigation ever into a publisher and its source,” she argued correctly.


  • Glenn Greenwald, the American often described as the “blogger” based in Brazil was the journalistic go-between for the Edward Snowden NSA leaks and the conduit of the information to The Guardian newspaper, which along with the Washington Post has been breaking one story after another from these leaks. 

 How could anyone argue that these are not prime examples of effective journalism?  The walls seem to be tumbling down.  For all of the talk still percolating about the Wikileaks disclosures and the efforts to discredit Julian Assange it is hard not to believe that a primary reason that no United States based charges have been filed against him, as they were against Snowden or Bradley, lies in his persistent claims too that Wikileaks was a journalistic endeavor.  Given the changing environment for the news and the roles played by citizen journalists, activist journalists, and bloggers by the thousands who have replaced editorial writers wholesale, how could freedom of speech not cover the widest possible definitions of all of these activities?