Student Media Watchdog Association

Wikileaks: Watchdog Journalism or Sensationalism?

In Editorial, Wikileaks on December 5, 2010 at 8:57 pm

By Katherine Bies

Wikileaks. A name that I have found hard to avoid in the past week as Wikileaks news articles continue to multiply on every major news website. While the cables have encouraged a barrage of controversy, such as the troubling dichotomy of freedom of speech or espionage and the possible negative or dangerous effects these cables could have on diplomatic relations or diplomats, are the cables themselves worth the pages and pages of news coverage they are receiving?

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On one hand, yes. These cables allow the public to access information that they would normally not have access to and provide journalists the opportunity to report unframed messages to the general public. Citizens should receive objective news and politicians should be held accountable for their words and actions, whether said or done in public or private. In these instances, the Wikileaks articles could induce hard-hitting, watchdog journalism.

Unfortunately, many news articles pertaining to the leaked cables relate more to gossip than hard news. For example, the articles reporting on the unflattering nicknames of world leaders used by US officials. It seems that the focus of these articles is to stir up drama, rather than to be informative. 

In addition, while it can be argued that though some of these cables may contain more important information, such as the state of nuclear weapons issues in Iran, all of these leaked cables must all be taken with a grain of salt. 

As Hillary Clinton has reminded us, “diplomatic cables are not policy- they are meant to inform”. Journalists must keep in mind the purpose of these cables when reporting on their content. Although these cables may be a glimpse at some objective truth in political affairs, journalists should be cautious of exaggerating their value and their newsworthiness.  The themes and concerns present in these cables are likely the same themes and concerns that are being discussed in the top-secret meetings of the bigwigs in Washington, but these cables are the watered down version of these discussions.  Or in other words, what I would call a highly public version of office gossip around the water cooler.  

Of course journalists should still take note of the complications and debate that are arising from these leaks, and even report on the content of the cables, but they should be cautious with how they portray the significance of the information included in these cables.

I have provided two examples of Wikileaks news coverage- one that plays to drama and gossip, and one that discusses the content of the cable in a thoughtful manner.


CBS News –

Watchdog Journalism:


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