This June, The Guardian pushed the button on the first story outlining the mass collection of phone records and online user data by the National Security Agency. Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who broke the story, was given access to a cache of 58,000 documents gathered by a young security analyst and former intelligence agent, Edward Snowden.

At the heart of this story is the “network effect” — the impact of goods and services is determined by the number of people using it. In a real sense, the NSA files showed a significant cost to the benefit of living in a highly connected world, mainly that of privacy. In a journalistic sense, the reporting of the story demonstrates that the modern leak — an enormous cache of digitised documents — needs a new kind of reporting.

At a time when we have come to think the days of the spectacular scoop and thorough reporting are over, news organisations are adapting to this post-industrial world by finding collaborations of scale. The legal and logistical challenges of shepherding the mega-revelation into a fragmented international and diverse public sphere now needs its own network effect.

To hold the rampant power of governments using networked technology to account, journalists must first understand it better and question it more closely. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2013

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