The economics of getting reporters to pay attention
From Raffi Khatchadourian's profile of Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks:
Still, the site remains a project in early development. Assange has been searching for the right way not only to manage it but also to get readers interested in the more arcane material there.
In 2007, he published thousands of pages of secret military information detailing a vast number of Army procurements in Iraq and Afghanistan. He and a volunteer spent weeks building a searchable database, studying the Army’s purchasing codes, and adding up the cost of the procurements -- billions of dollars in all. The database catalogued matériel that every unit had ordered: machine guns, Humvees, cash-counting machines, satellite phones. Assange hoped that journalists would pore through it, but barely any did. “I am so angry,” he said. “This was such a [bleeped for your protection] fantastic leak: the Army’s force structure of Afghanistan and Iraq, down to the last chair, and nothing.”
WikiLeaks is a finalist for a Knight Foundation grant of more than half a million dollars. The intended project would set up a way for sources to pass documents to newspaper reporters securely; WikiLeaks would serve as a kind of numbered Swiss bank account, where information could be anonymously exchanged. (The system would allow the source to impose a deadline on the reporter, after which the document would automatically appear on WikiLeaks.) Assange has been experimenting with other ideas, too. On the principle that people won’t regard something as valuable unless they pay for it, he has tried selling documents at auction to news organizations; in 2008, he attempted this with seven thousand internal e-mails from the account of a former speechwriter for Hugo Chávez. The auction failed. He is thinking about setting up a subscription service, where high-paying members would have early access to leaks.
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