Wikileaks’ Afghan War Logs are a boost for print media

Plenty will be written about the content of Wikileaks’ Afghan War logs and the ramifications for the war itself. But the main findings from the documents reveal little that we didn’t already know or suspect was happening in Afghanistan.

There is an increasing use of IEDs with deadly effects, an increasing number of civilian casualties as a result, there’s a growing use of drones by US forces, a tacit involvement of elements of the Pakistani intelligence services, and a total inability of Afghan central government and security forces to get a handle on any of it, beset by corruption and incompetency in equal measure.

Of course with the amount of content made available today some interesting individual stories have emerged.The story of Combat Outpost Keating uncovered by the New York Times’ own investigation of the documents caught my eye as a tragic example of the difficulties faced by allied forces in the region.

But what’s interesting from a journalism point of view about the war logs is the fact that Wikileaks, an increasingly prominent whistle blowing website, chose to collaborate with The Guardian, The New York Times and German weekly Der Spiegel, forgoing their usual practice of putting whatever leaked material has come into their possession straight up on their own web servers.

Wikileaks founder and editor Julian Assange, recognised that they needed the help and investigative expertise of these three renowned publications to extract the real stories from the 90,000 or so documents, leaked by US army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning and probably others.

Assange described the three publications as “the best newspapers in the world for investigative research.” It shows that print media is still highly valued in the modern media environment despite the seemingly endless stream of negative stories about the decline of newspapers, mainly with cutbacks and job losses at a regional level.

On top of this the emergence of websites such as Wikileaks were seen as another nail in the coffin of print journalism. No longer would a whistleblower with sensitive information contact an investigative newspaper journalist but he would instead make contact with websites such as Assange’s who would then publish the information in its entirety online.

While local newspapers are perhaps hitting a terminal decline, today’s revelations show that at a national level the best investigative journalists, perhaps the bests journalists still ply their trade for newspapers and magazines. For an insight into how it all came about Nick Davies gives an excellent account of the story behind the story as part of The Guardian‘s coverage today.

Clearly whilst all three of the publications have made use of their online presence to present the war logs in an interesting and engaging way, their print editions will be most memorable.

Proof of that can be seen in Assange holding aloft a copy of today’s Guardian at his press conference this afternoon to show the world the results of the biggest leak in intelligence history.

On this evidence, the newspaper remains the first draft of history.

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Follow me on Twitter: @oconnellhugh

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