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By Michael Keegan
Secrets drive Lisa Lynch.
The Concordia journalism professor’s research explores how new media and changes in the field of journalism are affecting the way information is circulated.
Educated at Stanford, Berkeley and Rutgers in literature and journalism, Lynch researches the connections between communication technologies, culture and social change. She says the impetus for her current work is “the way the traffic of information outside the world of journalism makes its way into journalism – or into public record even though it bypasses the Fourth Estate. It’s all about things people can’t, don’t, or won’t usually talk about, and how they get out.”
While working in Washington, D.C., in 2004, Lynch founded the Guantanamobile Project with Elena Razlogova, then a fellow at the George Mason Center for History and New Media and now a professor of history at Concordia. At a time when the issue of Guantanamo Bay detainees was below the radar of all but a few international journalists, Lynch and her group created a website as a database and information clearinghouse. They also filmed a mini-documentary on Gitmo, and presented it to audiences throughout the U.S. Midwest and South, interviewing them about what they knew about the legal and political issues surrounding the detainees.
She’s most enthusiastic about her book project on Wikileaks, a whistleblowing website that it says was set up “by human rights campaigners, investigative journalists, technologists and the general public” in 2007 to leak classified or suppressed documents while remaining uncensorable and protecting the anonymity of sources.
“It’s part of the global transparency movement,” says Lynch. Over the past several years, Wikileaks has been in the news for publishing to its website leaks such as half a million pager texts sent on 9/11 including messages from Pentagon workers and New York City police; a secret report commissioned by the Kenyan government detailing billions of dollars their former president allegedly stole from the country; and a procedural manual for Camp Delta at Guantanamo. The site has successfully fought off attacks in the courts, and has received support from publishers, press associations and the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Their servers are in Sweden, and they’re trying to create a data haven in Iceland,” says Lynch. “It’s now something journalists go to for resources, or as a bunker for documents that papers are afraid to leak because they have no resources to fight lawsuits.”
Currently, Lynch is also piloting the Digital Newsroom Project, a journalism ethnography study that will examine how the field of journalism is dealing with massive change. Her project will study the effects new technologies are having on the culture of journalism. Among these are differences in approaches between English and French language newsrooms, the need for multimedia training, and the challenges involved in archiving old news websites. And any examination of journalism right now is not an easy task.
“It’s hard to study unstable objects,” Lynch notes wryly.
A Concordia seed grant is funding the project, which Lynch runs with the help of a master’s student and two diploma students. Lynch is also currently a collaborating researcher in the Digital labour arm of the GRAND (Graphics, Animation and New Media) Network of Centres of Excellence, based in B.C. but involving researchers from across the country.