But Is It journalism?

The past week and more on the serious news front has been spent responding to the release of thousands of diplomatic cables from around the world, cables that apparently were part of ordinary diplomatic chatter. With the first batch of 220 or so of 251,287 cables released by WikiLeaks on Nov. 28, subsequent releases are scheduled to follow. The question for journalists is: So what?

In real terms, of course, the cables represent a gold mine of information, but if you believe, as I do, that information is only the raw material for journalism, then a gold mine does not equal jewelry (the finished product), but rather only the potential for jewelry down the road after someone has done some serious work.

That may happen, but so far the New York Times, one of five news organizations worldwide entrusted with the leaked cables, has mostly just reported what is in the cables with some opinion columns about what it all might mean. Other U.S. news outlets have pursued (surprise!) shock value over substance, as in "what I really think about French President Nicolas Sarkozy" and "Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi's eccentricities, including the constant presence of a buxom nurse."

It seems from cursory examination that the cables represent levels of information from pages of details about an official's wedding in Dagestan to transmission of surprising Arab support for invading Iran. The release of the cables, in short, is much like the release of water cooler conversations in any large organization. Information gleaned will range from the bizarre to the tedious to the very important. This is where journalism comes in.

It seems to me that the job of journalists is to take raw information (the cables) and provide context and meaning. Until then, it's just so much chatter, unless of course, you're vitally interested in the entertainment available at the August nuptials of Aida Sharipova.

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