It has taken news people too long to understand this, but the Obama administration may have been the least friendly to journalism of any, regardless of party, in recent times—notably in its zeal to prosecute leakers and penchant for secrecy. It’s impossible to know to what extent the government has used post-2001 authority to keep an eye on journalists’ communications with sources, or at least to find out who the sources were after the fact. What is clear is that prosecutions of sources have expanded dramatically, and that journalists need to upgrade their own techniques and technology when it comes to protecting sources. (See this sidebar.) Despite a number of worthy initiatives to open up some government data, moreover, the administration has by many accounts been more secretive than its predecessors on matters of vital public interest. And as noted earlier, the administration’s pursuit of Wikileaks and Julian Assange, with some unfortunate cheerleading from journalists who should know better, ultimately is a threat to all journalism and free speech.

The promise of the Internet was profound: a radically decentralized, democratized medium where anyone could publish and anyone could be heard. The reaction from industries and governments that feel threatened by the Net is to re-centralize. This may simply be the nature of modern capitalism and government, and the forces of control are getting more powerful every day. They are a direct threat to journalism and innovation. Journalists are at long last starting to take note—and we can only hope it’s not too late.

(Note: Portions of this article appeared first in a posting at Nieman Journalism Lab.)


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Dan Gillmor is founding director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship, a project of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication at Arizona State University, and is the author of We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People, and Mediactive.