Will Wikileaks drown in its own red ink?

The Web's most famous source of confidential info has suspended operations due to money troubles. What's left of investigative reporting might go down with it

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Why support Wikileaks?

Because investigative journalism is on a respirator, and the prognosis isn't good. For one thing, this kind of reporting is expensive. You need publications that can afford to pay a professional reporter, or a team of them, to dig into a story for months or even years without any promise that they'll end up with something worth publishing. Those stories might involve the use of a private detective, and they will almost always require the services of a team of attorneys to vet the copy carefully and defend the story later in court, if required. None of that stuff comes cheap.

Still, investigative reporting was how major news dailies and dozens of glossy mags made their bones back in the day. Now the number of publications that can continue to fund this kind of reporting have been whittled down to a handful, and most of those are teetering on the brink.

These days it's all about how fast you can publish a story online -- even when it bears little resemblance to reality as defined by most people -- and how much Google loves you as a result. There aren't a lot of rewards for reporting and reflection there.

Sure, the blogosphere can occasionally step in and break a story, just like a blind pig occasionally stumbles across an acorn. But only for the most brain-dead simple stuff -- like the wrong font used in a typewritten letter.

Most investigative breakthroughs involve detailed painstaking work, deep understanding of a topic, and the ability to earn the trust of a wide range of confidential sources who are willing to put their jobs and possibly their lives at risk just by talking to you.

Those things are not generally available to obsessive-compulsive pajama-wearing typists who may or may not be using their real names. And they certainly won't be without resources like Wikileaks, which levels the information playing field for everyone, professional and amateur journos alike.

So it's your choice. You can spend $10 on a couple of lattes and a kruller, or you can spend it on keeping information flowing just a little more freely around the world. I know which one I'd pick.

If Wikileaks goes down, will something new rise to take its place? Post your thoughts below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This story, "Will Wikileaks drown in its own red ink?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com.


Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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