While WikiLeaks is apparently looking to enlist the help of 60 news organisations around the world to cover the secret US diplomatic memos, New York Times executive editor Bill Keller has written a long article for the paper's magazine detailing how the NYT and other papers have been working with the whistleblower. The New York Times has also recently suggested that it might launch its own leaking system.
This is the sort of thing which Al Jazeera just created, in the form of the Al Jazeera Transparency Unit. The Qatar-based news organisation just received a large number of confidential papers documenting Israeli-Palestinian negotiations from the last decade via an unrevealed source, and this seems to have inspired the launch of the Transparency Unit, which aims to facilitate leaks of all kinds of documents, promising the possibility of secure submissions, and thorough vetting and authentication.
Keller told Yahoo! blog The Cutline that the paper is considering options for an in-house submission system. "A small group from computer-assisted reporting and interactive news, with advice from the investigative unit and the legal department, has been discussing options for creating a kind of EZ Pass lane for leakers," Keller said. He stressed to The Cutline that he couldn't go into details, however.
If more organisations start setting up such leaking systems, what would that mean for WikiLeaks?
WikLeaks' promise of a maximum security leaking mechanism by nation-less whistleblower is no doubt appealing to many who are looking to leak confidential information. But WikiLeaks seems to have found that its leaks do not have the desired impact when it provides them directly to the public, and so has enlisted the help of news organisations in its latest releases, and now, as the Associated Press reports, founder Julian Assange looking for even more. The papers who originally had access to the US diplomatic cables - The New York Times, The Guardian, El Pais, Le Monde and Der Spiegel - have yet to go through all the cables and Assange has said that releasing country-specific files to selected local media would serve to push them out faster.
As the AP says, giving the cables to news organisations allows Assange to "farm out the laborious editing process and helps insulate the online whistleblower from criticism," as well as increasing publicity.
And the benefit for the news organisations is that they get some great stories out of the documents. But given the international controversy surrounding WikiLeaks and Assange, combined with the difficulties in working with the whistleblower, which include abiding by the organisations' rules about who has access to the documents, for example, and respecting embargoes, and working with a source who was, as Bill Keller described him, "elusive, manipulative and volatile," it would not be surprising if more news organisations tried to enable more direct online leaks.
What is certain is that WikiLeaks has contributed to a trend that is representative of the new online environment and the phenomenon of mass leaks is unlikely to quietly slip away.