Pierre Omidyar's new nonprofit journalism venture is moving forward, full-steam ahead, and they look like they won't be taking any prisoners. Will First Look Media be the new model for journalism—not just for nonprofit news gathering, but for the industry as a whole? We'll see a hint of what's to come early next week when they launch their first surprising salvo.
It's no secret that there's been plenty of shakeup in the field of journalism, due in no small part to the decline of print as a viable revenue generator in the long term. This has rattled almost every established institution in the news business. From the restructuring of the New York Times, to the sale of the Washington Post, the shockwaves of the digital revolution have been felt in every corner.
When eBay founder and billionaire philanthropist Pierre Omidyar announced late last year that he would be launching his own mass media organization—with a strong nonprofit journalism component—it set off a tsunami of speculative forecasting about what this might mean for the industry. Of course it's far too early to be speculating in too much detail, but as more information trickles out about Omidyar's media venture with partners Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Jeremy Scahill the plot definitely thickens.
Omidyar's plan is for First Look Media to publish a host of new digital magazines—not just news sites, but ones that also cover sports, entertainment, and the like. Each will reportedly have its own individual editorial voice, its own unique look and feel, and each will be led by "veteran journalists with deep expertise in their fields."
Recently, Omidyar announced that we'll be getting a sneak peek at what's to come sometime early next week when they launch the first of these sites led by Greenwald, Poitras, and Scahill. The initial focus of this venture, according to Omidyar, will be "in-depth reporting on the classified documents previously provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden." This is, of course, big news, since nobody knows what bombshells may be left to drop from that earth-shaking document dump.
In his statement Omidyar goes on to explain, "First Look is still in the midst of building our team and refining our larger editorial vision and strategy. Later this year, we will launch more digital magazines, along with a flagship site. But in recent weeks, there has been a dramatic escalation in the threats against journalists reporting on the NSA story. First Look will uphold the rights of journalists everywhere to report on the sensitive and often controversial information that they learn from sources. We are launching the new site as a public service, committed to reporting on one of the most pressing issues of our time in a transparent and responsible manner."
This week, First Look announced three hires of investigative journalists, offering additional hints as to how deep this venture might be digging. They include Peter Maass, a veteran war reporter whose most recent book was an exhaustive dive into troubled oil-rich countries and who is now writing a book on surveillance; Marcy Wheeler, an expert on national security and civil liberties; and Ryan Gallagher, who has written extensively about government surveillance and technology. Today, First Look announced another important hire, poaching the New Yorker's experienced General Counsel, Lynn Oberlander.
As with ProPublica's launch, First Look is coming out of the gate with a potent combination of deep pockets and top-flight talent. Only this time the focus is more explicitly on challenging abuses of power and the pockets are much deeper. Omidyar's fortune is many times that of the Sandler family, which bankrolled the launch of ProPublica, and his initial financial commitment is much greater.
Exciting stuff and definitely a potential game-changer for the field of journalism. The site will be launched simultaneously online and on mobile devices and Omidyar says the exact launch date will be announced on @GGreenwald and @JeremyScahill. We'll definitely be staying tuned.