What is a News Leak?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 09 September 2019
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A news leak is a release of information which is supposed to be secret. News leaks vary widely, from discussions of the content of books which are still under a publisher's embargo, meaning that the books have not yet been released, to exposés of sensitive government documents. Many news agencies around the world rely on news leaks to “scoop” their opponents, allowing them to publish unique stories which readers, viewers, and listeners cannot access anywhere else.

The “leak” in “news leak” is a reference to the fact that the information must be obtained through the leaking of information from within an organization. Sometimes news leaks are less clandestine; some politicians, for example, have discussed confidential information publicly by accident or intentionally, as was the case with Valerie Plame, an American covert operative who was exposed to the national media in a press conference.

News leaks can take a number of forms. For example, someone from within an organization may want to draw attention to a serious issue, such as illegal activity, and he or she may choose to go to the media with this information. Some people use leaks to get information out quickly, even if they aren't authorized to disclose it, sometimes for the purpose of manipulating the media. Organizations may also make off the record comments which could be considered leaks before the formal release of information.


Leakers take a number of forms. Some are dissatisfied employees who simply want to hurt the public image of the companies they work for. Others are concerned citizens who become uneasy about the work that their companies do. Some simply want attention, trickling out information in the hopes that it will turn into a big story so that they can be in the public eye. In some cases, a news leak comes from someone who is friendly with a journalist, and it is viewed as a personal favor.

One famous news leak in the United States was the Pentagon Papers, a series of confidential public documents which were released by the Washington Post. The Pentagon Papers proved to be a flashpoint for the American public, radically changing perceptions about the Vietnam War and causing people to rally around the journalists involved when they were pressured to reveal their source. Even today, the source of a news leak is protected in the United States, sometimes much to the frustration of the government.


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Post 4

@JimmyT - Oh boy I have heard politicians screw up that way many a times in my day. I see that this tends to happen quite a bit in times of war and it occurs by all walks of people that have access to information that they are not supposed to divulge.

One thing that I would like to know is whether or not there are any penalties for creating a news leak that are not supposed to be released at all to people listening.

I would imagine that there are penalties, but they are vary depending on the severity of the damage done and whether or not they were said during times of war.

Anyway if anyone has any idea on what the penalties are I would very much like to know what they are and if there are any known examples of such?

Post 3

@titans62 - That is the exact reason why in high profile court cases the jury are not allowed to speak with the media or release details of the case and are sometimes required to be sequestered for the duration of the trial.

There have been numerous instances in which a juror has gotten in trouble for releasing details to the press and committing an accidental or knowingly create a new leak that releases aspects of the trial they are not supposed to.

I find this to be a very common type of news leak that is almost on par with politicians accidentally discussing details of national security or classified documents that could cause a security threat to America.

Post 2

@cardsfan27 - That is true and does happen, but remember in the United States of America and in most places around the world the press has freedom to say what they want and it is usually only matters of national security that involve something the press cannot say.

Now, I will say that there are sometimes details that cannot be released by the press if it happens to come about, such as in court cases that involve minors or in rape cases.

If this were to occur the news outlet will get into a lot of trouble and they could even be liable for prosecution for letting the public know of fine details of the trial that are not supposed to be made public.

Post 1

I have always assumed that news leaks occurred due to the press saying something that they should not.

I heard of a news reporter getting in trouble while acting as a war correspondent because he accidentally divulged his location over the air waves and this caused millions to know what the troop movements were.

I have also thought that news leaks occurred due to the unscrupulous nature of some new people who seek to release a great story despite the consequences they may receive for divulging information that they should not have.

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