A collaborative challenger : using WikiLeaks to map the contours of the journalistic paradigm



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As institutional and professional journalism faces increasing uncertainty about its financial security and social influence, it is also being challenged by emerging forms of networked journalism that rely on open, network-based flows of information. In 2010, one of those networked groups, WikiLeaks, rose to prominence through a series of large, high-profile leaks of government information. Drawing on the concepts of paradigm repair and professional boundary work, this study examined the way numerous professional news organizations portrayed WikiLeaks as being beyond the bounds of professional journalism.

Through a textual analysis of discourse about WikiLeaks from the group’s inception in 2006 through early 2011, the study found that the American professional news media depicted WikiLeaks as unreliable, unstable deviants who maliciously and indiscriminately released information rather than properly performing journalism. The discourse portrayed WikiLeaks as being outside journalism’s professional norms in four primary areas: institutionality, reporter-source relationships, original reporting, and objectivity. In doing so, professional journalists defended those domains against WikiLeaks’ networked alternative, reasserting their own social value and authority by arguing for the superiority of their professional journalistic model. Discourse from professional media criticism, conservative and liberal alternative news media, and European journalism was also examined, using the response to WikiLeaks to help form a a map of several areas of the journalistic sphere in terms of their adherence to the paradigmatic tenets of professional journalism. The WikiLeaks case provides a useful guide for evaluating future interactions between professional and networked journalism, particularly professional journalism’s evolving self-definition vis-à-vis its emerging networked counterpart.