scahill, greenwald, poitras and omidyar: the new media venture

Jay Rosen got the first interview with Pierre Omidyar after the news of the new venture was ‘leaked’.  Yes, funny, eh?  They spoke by phone, and after talking about losing out to Jeff Bezos in buying the Washington Post (or at least not buying it), he said that Pierre grew alarmed by the pressures by way of Washington being brought to bear on journalists reporting on leak investigations.  So he began to wondering if he should use the same money to start an entire news organization from the ground up.  Given his belief that the only way that  an organization that produces ‘independent, ferocious, investigative journalism’ can act as a check against power is if it reaches a general audience, as in: a wide number of readers.  And that means to him that a digital media news site must cover a whole swathe of subjects: tech, sports, entertainment, and whatever ‘news consumers’ want.  Rosen’s take is that the plan is/was to involve star journalists with deep expertise, their own online followers, and certainly the trio fit the bill.  He mentions the importance of supporting them and:

‘By “support” Omidyar means many things. The first and most important is really good editors. (Omidyar used the phrase “high standards of editing” several times during our talk.) Also included: strong back end technology. Powerful publishing tools.  Research assistance. And of course a strong legal team because the kind of journalism NewCo (note: Rosen’s name for the unnamed venture) intends to practice is the kind that is capable of challenging some of the most powerful people in the world.’ [snip] 

He quotes Omidyar:

‘“I have always been of the opinion that the right kind of journalism is a critical part of our democracy.” He said he had watched closely over the last 15 years as the business model in journalism collapsed but he had not “found a way to engage directly.” But then when the idea of buying the Washington Post came up he started to think about it more seriously. “It brings together some of my interests in civic engagement and building conversations and of course technology, but in a very creative way.’

This link will take you to Omidyar’s statement on the new venture, and he links to other articles about it.  Jay Rosen has links to a couple published negative reactions on his post.  He (via his foundation) helps fund the Sunlight Foundation; his wife Pamela has her own philanthropic involvements.  This is his personal name page in the FEC contributors’ data base (thank you, ChePasa). It’s largely Democrat-heavy, and amusing because he gave the ‘California Victory2000’  pac $25 grand in 1999, plus a couple grand more directly to her campaign, and the link leads to none other than: Diane Feinstein.  Ha.  Another site said he’d contributed to George Bush in 2010.

Rosen linked to a number of puff pieces on Omidyar’s ventures in the news business, so far limited to Hawaii and a site called Honolulu Civil Beat, founded and funded by Omidyar in 2011.  It’s focus is on ‘document-driven’ investigative reporting, according to staff writer Adrienne LaFrance via Reuters, or ‘a new civic square’ to encourage discussion and engagement among Hawaiian citizens.  After ooh-la-la-ing about hanging with a multi-billionaire, while pretending not to, LaFrance says:

‘Really, Civil Beat represented a return to fundamentals: shoe-leather reporting, an emphasis on filing Freedom of Information Act requests and examining public records, close coverage of government spending and campaign finance. Greenwald, Poitras, and Scahill are known for such doggedness, so their partnership with Omidyar fits. At one all-hands editorial meeting in Civil Beat’s early days, Omidyar unveiled his new slogan for the publication: “Change begins with a question.”

‘It might sound hokey but it underscores the heart of what Civil Beat is about, and speaks to Omidyar’s values: The idea that the best journalism serves the people, and enables an engaged and informed citizenry to organize around information.’

LaFrance goes on to explain the business model, specifically that Omidyar had explained out of the gate that it would be a business, not a non-profit concern.  Subscriptions to the site cost $20 a month, which eventually morphed to $9.99, along with the hard paywall changing to a metered one, permitting X number of free reads before requiring a subscription.  And she mentions a ‘revenue-sharing partnership’ with the Huffington Post that enabled that.  If you are making ‘Ewwww’ noises over that, so am I.  I reckon that’s what ‘consumer-driven news’ means.  (I won’t mention seeing an article at HuffPo about ‘fart-blocking underwear’ (srsly) I saw when I clicked Jay’s link, okay?)  Consumer-driven news, HuffPo-style…

LaFrance quotes Omdiyar as having said that his new (as yet unnamed) venture will also be for-profit, but that all profits will be re-invested in the organization.  He’s pledged ‘at least’ a quarter of a million’ in funding, the amount he was considering spending to purchase the Washington Post, which of course was bought by another online multi-billionaire,’s Jeff Bezos.

Omidyar, in cooperation with the Hawaii Community Foundation, opened the Civil Beat Law Center in August of this year; according to Patti Epler:

‘The law center’s primary mission is to help the media and the public get access to government information. Secondarily, the center will be a resource for nonprofit legal organizations who find situations that are too big for them to address alone, given their limited resources.

The center will advise the press — print, TV, radio, online, bloggers — and the public on government access at no cost. And that’s a big step forward for people who have felt alone and powerless when dealing with government officials.’

Ryan Chittum at the Columbia Journalism Review lauds the venture as an extraordinary combination of muckraking and dissidence funded by a gargantuan internet fortune, says:

‘The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo. Billionaires tend to have a finger in every pie: powerful friends they don’t want annoyed and business interests they don’t want looked at. The Way Things Are may not work for most of us, but it ain’t bad if you’re an American billionaire.

By hiring Greenwald & Co., Omidyar is making a clear statement that he’s the billionaire exception. A little more than a year ago, Greenwald was writing for, which (somehow) has a market cap of $3.5 million. Six years ago he was still typing away on his own blog. It’s like Izzy Stone running into a civic-minded plastics billionaire determined to take I.F. Stone’s Weekly large back in the day.’

Heh.  One commenter on Rosen’s piece said that perhaps Ralph Nader was right when he wrote: ‘only the rich can save us now’.

In ‘Is Glenn Greenwald the Future of News?’ by former editor Bill Keller at the New York Times published yesterday, publishing email exchanges between himself and Glenn Greenwald and the new project.  They exchange opinions and barbs about journalism: it’s purpose, ‘crusading journalism v. ‘just the facts’ reporting, jeopardizing national security, both good and hideous NYT reporting, failure to report, and more.  It’s long, fairly interesting, but it does not address what I’d hoped, given that Keller opens with:

Much of the speculation about the future of news focuses on the business model: How will we generate the revenues to pay the people who gather and disseminate the news?’

I wanted to hear more about that.  Keller got off some shots about Julian Assange, and a major zinger, reporting that re: endangering unredacted informants names published:

“WikiLeaks’ attitude on that issue was callous indifference. According to David Leigh, The Guardian’s lead investigator on that story, Julian Assange said, “If they get killed, they’ve got it coming to them.”

Greenwald provided a document on his Twitter page that was written written by attendee John Goetz, who was at the self-same dinner with Assange that Leigh had apparently referenced, denying it.

Greenwald made two points to Keller that I found key: he was asked if the new media group would be a monoculture, or would it include ‘right-wing Greenwalds’?  Glenn answered:

‘We welcome and want anyone devoted to true adversarial journalism regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum, and have already been speaking with conservatives journalists like that: real conservatives, not the East Coast rendition of “conservatives” such as David Brooks.’

He also spoke very well here, imo:

‘As for taking into account dangers posed to innocent life before publishing: nobody disputes that journalists should do this. But I don’t give added weight to the lives of innocent Americans as compared to the lives of innocent non-Americans, nor would I feel any special fealty to the U.S. government as opposed to other governments when deciding what to publish. When Goldsmith praised the “patriotism” of the American media, he meant that U.S. media outlets give special allegiance to the views and interests of the U.S. government.’

His comments on page 5 concerning the differences between Wikileaks and the Times are caustic, scathing and absolutely true.

Here’s Glenn with Amy Goodman yesterday; I was very glad that she asked about Omidyar, PayPal, and accepting contributions for Wikileaks.  (Note: Yves Smith was on the program, too, discussing JP Morgan’s moving-target DOJ ‘settlement’ for fraud, etc.)

Zo.  Boy, howdy, do I want to be giddy as a schoolgirl about this project.  And I am, with a couple caveats.  One is the multi-billionaire factor, of course (Forbes says he’s worth $8.3 billion), and what effect his uber-Elite status may play on the negative end of the venture, all testimonials to the contrary aside.

Two is whether or not the new place will be behind a paywall, or even the X free reads a month before…a subscription is needed.  I believe that I may have read every comment under every piece I linked to, and so many commenters outright volunteered that they’d pay up the wazoo for a subscription.  For chrissake, how many times does a quarter of a million divide into eight point three billion?  If there’s a paywall, phooey on the site.  Even designing it as a ‘for profit’ venture is a bit chilling for me, but then: he is not only a capitalist, but a mega-capitalist, and hopefully his dedication to holding The Powerful accountable and transparent is as fierce a dedication as his supporters claim.  I will abjure saying ‘Let us pray’.

In addition, my fervent hope would be that all their work product would be licensed as some form of Creative Commons or Public Domain, even though that makes me a socialist purist, I reckon.  Imagine the extra influence that their work would have if we were free to spread it about online ubiquitously, rather than being limited to a few paltry paragraphs, and having to paraphrase the rest?

Now, I’d like this to be an open thread; please say what you see, revel in, are cautious about, and so forth.  I know I’m bound to have missed a lot in my musings, and seriously: I’m very hopeful that this might change the face of journalism, which is more crucial now than ever with Obomba’s war on journalists, and indeed, a global war on journalists, as Jeremy Scahill notes.  And by the way, his participation is one of the cleanest bills of anticipatory health I can imagine: he seems unplagued by ego issues, and his integrity is of the highest order, although I’m not dismissing the other partners; I just haven’t followed Glenn as closely, and Poitras was unknown to me; plus,  Scahill’s put his life on the line many times bringing us his reports from around the world.  That counts for a lot for me.

(cross-posted at

13 responses to “scahill, greenwald, poitras and omidyar: the new media venture

  1. ” “If they get killed, they’ve got it coming to them.”

    is The New York Times worried about someone saying that?

    Pretty funny.

    What’s the death count in Iraq these days? How are the American veterans from Iraq doing?

    They also have a resident climate change denier. “NYT’s Revkin pushes global cooling myth (again!) and repeats outright misinformation.
    BY JOE ROMM ON SEPTEMBER 22, 2009 AT 7:24 PM
    The top climate reporter for the NYT has published what is arguably the worst article of his career, replete with statements that simply are scientifically inaccurate or misleading beyond belief:”

    Glenn might be in a position to be thought of as one of the most important journalists in many years. Maybe that means more to him than money.

    Good luck to them. They’ve already accomplished a great deal, with great courage.

  2. indeed hypocritical, and i’d even meant to say that glenn should have more closely tied his remarks on page 5 to the vastness of who and how many the Times had not only endangered, but caused to be murdered, dislocated, and toxified for countless generations with depleted uranium and white phosphorus.

    yes, they’ve accomplished a whole lot, and i do wish them well, too. with those caveats. i sure can’t afford any subscription!

    also, you might like hearing this song and artist that jeremy scahill linked to on his twitter page. it was not long after he’d said, “some things can’t be assigned to the dustbin of history”.

  3. Trigger (saving country said this about Jason…..

    “If there is such a thing as a superstar in Americana music, then right now, Jason Isbell is it. What we very well may be witnessing is a songwriting legend in the making. He’s the songwriter that in the future songwriter-philes will hearken back to as proof of how the craft is lost. He’s the guy right now making sure that it isn’t. He is the Townes Van Zandt or Guy Clark of our time. So savour these moments, and feel blessed that you’re getting to live them in their original era, because they’re the ones future generations will look back on with fondness, and envy.”

    high praise.

  4. given that you’d expressed sorrow over the disappearance of good county musicians, i figured you’d like it. that is high praise, indeed. loved townes witless; dunno guy clark so much. but even jerry jeff’s ballads can still make me weep. but i never liked much country past patsy cline, and dozen others a bit later; you’ve shown me a few who were not on my screen.

  5. I

    I guess there was a group in Nashville thirty or so years ago, townes and steve earl, guy clark, guy clark’s wife, who wrote a number of hit country songs, and some others, that wrote songs, and drank a lot. There’s a movie about them, recorded in somebodies place, they’re all plastered.

    can’t believe the number of people ready to jump on Glenn Greenwald.


  6. i think it’s more about sifting through to what we hope is the truth, mafr. in one way, that’s why i blog; and i am rather naive in so many ways as to motivations, unintended consequences, and darker subtexts. and i think that the *slight* detractions have not been about greenwald,, but omidyar. seriously.

    fun on the drunken film; townes was a sensitive and tortured soul.

  7. if someone like Greenwald ends up making some money, some people find that annoying.

    There was a train that went across Canada in the late sixties, called the Festival express. with Janis Joplin, the Band, Buddy Guy, and a bunch of others on the train. they stopped here and there and did concerts.

    There’s a movie about it, and one scene where Rick Danko and Janis and some others are sitting on the train, strumming a guitar and singing, very badly, all of them really drunk and so on.

    too bad.

    I went to the concert, it was remarkable.

  8. dank joplin garcia all overdosed and died.

  9. hey, dudes; tune them gui-tars! (audience agrees…) :)

    in all the comments i read from detrators, i don’t remember anyone saying anything about glenzilla and money, save for the fact that he could have been earning big bucks all along, had he chosen not to serve the public interest with his great brain and body of insightful constitutional expertise. same for marcy wheeler.

    i reckon she must have been asked to join this group, eh? cassiodorus just said this over yonder:

    ‘May they expose NSA surveillance while staying out of the way of the crash program we need if we’re to get off of our addiction to fossil-fuel consumption before global warming fries the Earth to a crisp.’

    i hope they help, not just get out of the way. that’s the stuff multi-billionaires *could be about*, except for the fact that capitalism itself is at the core of all this.

  10. probably.

    her thinking and writing is too complex for me, it’s quite a ways above my ability to follow and understand. I’ve tried reading her posts, I just get lost.

    she’s seems to be pretty brilliant.

  11. actually they are all exceptional in the intellect department. There was a video out a week or two ago of Glenn being interviewed by an attacking bbc person. She was dogged, but he made her look very foolish.

    so are scahill poitras, assange, and snowden.

    Very big brainpower in that goup.

  12. marcy’s indeed brilliant, plus has what rayne once told me was a ‘holographic memory’, which is even beyond photographic, although i forge the details. and yes, that bbc video was fantastic. it seems i may have posted it here, but as ever…i forget. don’t know almost anything about poitras, but i will certainly learn. wonder who they could get to edit climate science?

  13. Joe Romm is in their league, but he’s got climate progress, where he eviscerates climate change clowns. He’s much less polite than any of them. and a lot funnier. but, I don’t know who.

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